President Vladimir Putin has warned Russia may begin requiring advance payment for gas supplies unless Ukraine comes to the negotiating table over its unpaid energy bills.
Russia’s state-controlled natural gas company “Gazprom will only send gas in the amounts that the Ukrainian side has paid for a month in advance” under the changed sale terms being contemplated, Putin said at a government meeting according to televised excerpts on Wednesday.
“They will receive as much as they have paid for,” he said.
Russia says Ukraine now owes it $US2.2 billion ($A2.4 billion) for natural gas supplies, and Gazprom last week demanded that Ukraine “take immediate measures” to settle the debt.
Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev insisted during the meeting that the situation was “critical” and urged the government to switch to a system of advance payments.
Putin, however, said that for now Russia would refrain from doing so, citing Ukraine’s economic difficulties and Moscow’s ongoing talks with the European Union.
Earlier this month, Gazprom announced it was raising the price of gas exports to Ukraine by more than a third, scrapping a previous discount amid soaring political tensions between the two ex-Soviet countries.
Ukraine now has to pay $US485 dollars for 1,000 cubic metres of gas, the highest price of any of Gazprom’s clients in Europe.
Kiev charges that Moscow is punishing it for its Western ambitions and vowed to take its energy-rich neighbour to court.
Speaking at the government meeting, Putin added that Russia was not in a position to prop up Ukraine’s struggling economy indefinitely.