Russia, Ukraine hold emergency gas talks as cutoff looms

World Today

Bread baked by Russia-backed separatists is distributed, one per person, to residents in Chornukhyne, Ukraine, Monday, March 2, 2015. More than 6,000 people have died in eastern Ukraine since the start of the conflict almost a year ago that has led to a "merciless devastation of civilian lives and infrastructure," the U.N. human rights office said Monday. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda) Bread baked by Russia-backed separatists is distributed, one per person, to residents in Chornukhyne, Ukraine, Monday, March 2, 2015. More than 6,000 people have died in eastern Ukraine since the start of the conflict almost a year ago. (AP Photo/Vadim Ghirda)

Russia and Ukraine’s energy ministers are holding emergency talks after the Russian gas supplier said it would cut off deliveries to the war-torn country as soon as Tuesday if it does not receive payment.

The European Union, which is mediating the talks in Brussels hoping to keep gas flowing despite the dispute, imports around 40 percent of its gas from Russia, half through conflict-torn Ukraine.

Kiev and Moscow have fought out several gas price wars over the past few years and concerns are mounting that any fresh cuts could again hit European supplies.

Cash-strapped Ukraine is struggling to buy time and made a $15 million payment last week, but Moscow said that will cover only a day’s worth of gas, leaving a potential cutoff looming Tuesday.

Arriving for talks with his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Demchyshyn and the European Union’s energy chief Maros Sefcovic, Russian Energy Minister Alexander Novak acknowledged the “need to resume an energy dialogue.”

Russia said that it will cut supplies unless Kiev pre-pays for gas it wants to use. Ukraine, meanwhile, accuses Russia of failing to abide by its contractual obligations.

Complicating the dispute are deliveries to Ukraine’s rebel-held east, where fighting between Kiev’s forces and Russia-backed rebels has killed nearly 5,800 people.

Kiev cut gas supplies to rebel-held areas last week, prompting Russia to pump gas there directly. Russia said those deliveries should be counted in gas exports to Ukraine.

The conflict has complicated EU efforts to clarify the situation.

It is “not very easy to send our monitors to all these areas,” said EU spokeswoman Anna-Kaisa Itkonen.

EU countries are required to have at least 30 days-worth of gas supplies for households and vulnerable institutions like hospitals in case of any major disruption. Stocks are usually replenished during spring and summer so it is likely that Ukraine’s would be low now.

Report from The Associated Press