SOCHI, May 25 â€“ Russian President Vladimir Putin, defying U.S. criticism, on Thursday defended an option of using Russiaâ€™s position of dominant energy supplier as a tool for promoting the countryâ€™s policy agenda.
The development is the latest indication that Russia, while aggressively pursuing its interests, may again resort to natural gas supply cutoff in a looming price dispute with Ukraine.
"When we fight for our interests, we also look for the most acceptable methods to accomplish our national tasks, and I find it strange that this seems inexplicable to someone," Putin said.
The comment, made after Russia-EU summit in Sochi, was a direct response to a recent remark made by U.S. Vice-President Dick Cheney when he had criticized Russiaâ€™s policy on energy and democracy.
Speaking in Vilnius on May 4, Cheney accused Russia of using its vast oil and gas reserves as "tools of manipulation and blackmail" to pursue political goals.
Cheneyâ€™s remark was triggered by Russiaâ€™s move to cut completely natural gas supplies to Ukraine on Jan. 1 that had led to disruptions in gas supplies to the European Union.
Analysts said that Russiaâ€™s gas supply cutoff was aimed at punishing Ukraine for its pro-Western foreign policy, including plans to join NATO and the European Union.
A deal reached on Jan. 4 between Naftogaz Ukrayiny, the national oil and gas company, and Gazprom, Russiaâ€™s state-controlled gas giant, ended the gas supply restrictions after Ukraine had accepted a 90% hike in gas prices.
The deal also authorized RosUkrEnergo, a Swiss-registered gas trader thought to be controlled by Gazprom and by some private interests, to become Ukraineâ€™s only gas supplier during the next five years.
The U.S., which has been investigating RosUkrEnergo, criticized the deal and suggested it must be scrapped apparently amid lack of transparency on who may be the real beneficiary in the trader.
But Putin disagreed.
"How can leaders of other states say it is bad for the Ukrainians?" Putin said according to AFP.
Meanwhile, Russiaâ€™s aggressive stance on the energy market may trigger another wave of confrontation in July as Gazprom has already warned it would increase gas prices for Ukraine by more than 18% starting July 1.
Ukrainian Prime Minister Yuriy Yekhanurov said Ukraine had expected the price to stay unchanged during the next five years. He said Ukraine will try to sign an agreement with Russia before the end of June to try to avert the price hike and avoid the looming clash. (nr/ez)