Ukraine crisis: Putin will cut gas to Europe unless Russia is paid by the end of the week

The Russian President likened Ukraine's decision not to supply rebel forces with gas to 'genocide'

Europe could face a gas crisis at the end of the week, with Russian President Vladimir Putin threatening to stop supply to Ukraine unless it receives advance payment.

The 147 billion cubic metres of gas Russia last year delivered to Europe represented about a third of the continent's needs, and 40 per cent of that arrived via Ukraine.

Putin yesterday claimed that, as stipulated in the Kiev-Moscow energy contract hashed out late last year, Russian gas giant Gazprom "will suspend deliveries" if it is not prepaid. He said: "This may create a threat to transit to Europe, to our European partners.

"We hope that gas supplies will not be interrupted. But this does not depend only on us, it depends on the financial discipline of our Ukrainian partners."

Around the time of the annexation of Crimea, Russia turned off the gas to Ukraine, the third time it has done so in the last 10 years.

The energy-based relationship between the countries continues to be treated as a battleground in the regional conflict, with Putin particularly unhappy that Kiev has stopped supplying gas to territories run by pro-Russian rebels.

He said: "Imagine these people will be left without gas in winter. Not only that there is famine.

"It smells of genocide."

Ukraine reportedly has enough gas for the remainder of the week, and Russia is currently directly supplying the country's rebel-controlled regions.

Pg-50-russia-epa.jpgAlexei Miller, the head of Russian gas company Gazprom , told the head of Ukrainian state energy company, Naftogaz, in a letter that Kiev had only three days left of prepaid gas deliveries from Russia.

After that, Interfax news agency cited Miller as saying, Ukraine would be cut off.

A Gazprom spokesman said there had been no decision on whether to shut off supplies yet and Energy Minister Alexander Novak said he hoped a payment dispute with Kiev would not lead to a break in gas supplies to Europe.

"We are counting on a new prepayment for Russian gas being made on time. There should be no break in gas supplies to European customers," Novak said in a statement.

The short-term energy deal negotiated in December is due to expire at the end of the month.

Under the deal, Ukraine is required to pay in advance for gas.

It has said it will not make any further payments without new guarantees because Moscow failed on Sunday and Monday to deliver gas that had already been purchased.

European Commission Vice President Maros Sefcovic has reportedly proposed holding talks to resolve the dispute.

Additional reporting by Reuters

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