KIEV, Feb. 26 - Russian gas giant Gazprom may cut natural gas supplies to Ukraine on Wednesday as the country has failed to clear its outstanding gas debt, the office of President Viktor Yushchenko announced Tuesday.
Viktor Baloha, the chief of staff at the Yushchenko office, said Russian President Vladimir Putin had called his Ukrainian counterpart earlier Tuesday to deliver the warning.
“The Russian president has informed the Ukrainian president that Gazprom may suspend gas supplies tomorrow,” Baloha said in a statement.
This is the second time over the past four days that Putin has addressed Yushchenko directly with complaints that Ukraine has been delaying the payments of gas debts.
The developments underscore the high degree of concern in Moscow over the apparent failure to pay the debts.
“It’s hard to blame our neighbors for such a position,” Baloha said. “Obviously, efforts from our government were not enough for complete and timely payments of gas debt.”
Baloha also warned that possible gas supply cutoff by Gazprom may put at risk supplies of Russian gas via Ukraine to Europe. Ukraine is responsible for up to 80% of Russia’s Europe-bound gas supplies. Russia accounts for a quarter of Europe’s overall gas demand.
“The non payments of debt to Gazprom create tensions [for Ukraine] in both directions, the Russian and the European one,” Baloha said.
Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko pledged on Saturday to clear the $1 billion debt quickly.
Naftogaz Ukrayiny, the national oil and gas company, paid a total of $284 million against the debt over the past two weeks, making two installments, $178 million on Feb. 20 and $106 million on Feb. 14.
Gazprom had earlier estimated the overall debt at $1.5 billion, which included $1 billion for gas supplied in 2007 and $500 million for gas supplied in January and February.
Yushchenko, who has been criticizing Tymoshenko for slow pace of debt payments, said last week that the government had enough money on its accounts to immediately pay the debt.
Meanwhile, Naftogaz Ukrayiny, in reaction to the gas supply cutoff warning, said Tuesday that a payment of 1.175 billion hryvnias ($233 million) will be made later this week.
“We are working on the payment of the debt,” a Naftogaz spokesman said, adding that the payments will be made in full and in line with an agreement reached on February 12 between Yushchenko and Putin in Moscow. (sb/ez)