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Ukraine, Russia Resume Gas Talks Amid Conflict

  • Gabe Joselow

FILE - A worker turns a valve at an underground gas storage facility near Striy, Ukraine, May 21, 2014.

FILE - A worker turns a valve at an underground gas storage facility near Striy, Ukraine, May 21, 2014.

A Russian official says Ukraine and Russia are meeting Monday to resolve a natural gas dispute after Moscow threatened to cut-off supplies if Ukraine does not pay outstanding debts. The dispute adds to tension between the two countries, as Ukraine combats a pro-Russian insurgency in the east.

A spokeswoman for Russia's energy ministry said Ukrainian and Russian energy officials, as well as a representative of the European Union, are sitting down in Brussels for the negotiations.

The heart of the issue is a dispute between the two countries over how much Ukraine should pay for Russian gas.

Moscow has threatened to cut off supplies as early as Tuesday if Ukraine does not pay its debts, a move that also would disrupt flows to Europe.

Price spike

In April, Russia nearly doubled the price of gas to Ukraine to $480 per 1000 cubic meters, a decision that followed the ousting of Ukraine's former Russian-backed president Viktor Yanukovych.

Russia also angered Ukraine with the annexation of Crimea in March, while Russian fighters have been seen among rebels involved in a separatist uprising in eastern Ukraine. Moscow denies the allegations.

Valentin Zemlyansky, a former press secretary for Ukraine's gas company Naftogaz, said that despite these conflicts between the countries, he expects both sides to remain pragmatic during gas negotiations.

“The current situation inside the country,” he said, “has more of an impact on the mood of society than on relationships in the sphere of gas talks.”

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, who took office Saturday, has urged a ceasefire this week in the restive Donbas region -- the heart of the pro-Russian insurgency.

Bloody battles

In his inaugural address, he promised amnesty for fighters who do not have Ukrainian blood on their hands.

Meantime, separatist forces accuse Ukraine's military of killing civilians during counter-insurgency operations.

In Donetsk province Sunday, a separatist commander held a news conference alongside six captured Ukrainian soldiers.

In a video of the event, Commander Sergey Zdriluk said he believes the conflict will come to a turning point when Ukrainian soldiers start to realize they are killing their own people.

Zdriluk asked the captured soldiers to answer questions about their orders, and about whether they feel “deceived.” They are then asked questions by Russian-speaking journalists.

A spokesman for Ukraine's so-called "anti-terror operation," Vladyslav Seleznyov, denounced the news conference as a farce. In a post on Facebook, he called for the soldiers and prisoners of war to be treated in accordance with international law.

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