News / Europe

Ukraine, Russia Resume Gas Talks Amid Conflict

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.
Gabe Joselow
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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Comment Sorting
by: Sergey Lavrov from: Russ
June 09, 2014 10:47 PM
The North Atlantic alliance’s attempts to go eastwards are “artificial” and contradict the pledge not to expand “one inch to the east” given to Russia, Russia’s Foreign Minister said after meeting his Finnish counterpart Erkki Tuomioja.

"The artificial attempt to continue NATO's eastward expansion, progression of the military infrastructure to the east, closer to Russia's borders, is counterproductive,” the Lavrov pointed out at a joint press conference in Finland's Turku.

The strategy contradicts the bloc’s agreement with Russia and the terms of their work in the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, Lavrov said.

Earlier this month, US President Barack Obama announced a plan to invest $1 billion in stepping up its military presence in Eastern Europe. Following Obama's commitment, US said it would be increasing its military presence in the Black Sea region.

A couple days later, on the same day Lavrov made his point, a major military exercise with ten NATO member countries participating kicked off in Latvia, involving 4,700 troops and 800 military vehicles.

Russia sees NATO's moves as a sign of aggression in the midst of the Ukrainian crisis.

When asked about the latter, Lavrov said that if Kiev chooses Europe as their economic associate, they should "understand all the responsibility within the framework of the existing agreements with the CIS".

However, the Russian FM reminded Kiev that no one should “strengthen their security at the expense of others,” whatever course Ukraine’s new leaders may choose.

The Russian foreign minister also labeled EU intentions to freeze the South Stream project as not being constructive, and blamed "some countries" for trying to interfere in the energy dialogue between Russia and the European Union. Although the minister said there were issues before the Ukrainian crisis: "For many years our partners in Brussels refused to finish work on a new basic agreement, demanding that we give additional unilateral concessions."

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