Russia could cut off Ukraine’s gas on Tuesday

Russian leaders are prepared to stop crucial gas flows and squeeze their struggling neighbour economically even as Russian citizens take an increasingly open role in the violent conflict in Ukraine’s east.

Ukrainian President-elect Petro Poroshenko has promised a newly vigorous effort to combat the pro-Russian separatists who have seized buildings and key cities across eastern Ukraine. But the battle over energy may be nearly as important for the country’s future, with the power to determine how far Ukraine turns to the West and how firmly it remains in Russia’s orbit. The disputed gas debt could be as much as $US5.2 billion ($5.6 billion) through the end of May, and Russia wants at least a partial payment by Monday.

Negotiations have dragged for months. On Friday, Ukraine said that it would make a $US786 million payment toward the debt, but it was not immediately clear whether that would be enough to forestall a cutoff. Negotiations were to continue Monday, even as Ukrainian and Russian energy officials traded barbs about who was at fault in the standoff.
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