Russia hikes price of natural gas for Ukraine

Even as NATO saw no sign of tangible Russian force pullback from the Ukrainian border, Russia has hiked the price of natural gas for Ukraine.

The Russian gas monopoly Gazprom has withdrawn the 30 per cent discount, thereby increasing the price of gas for Ukraine from $268.5 to $385.5 per 1,000 cubic metres. The discount was part of a financial bailout package Russia’s President Vladimir Putin extended to Ukraine’s President Viktor Yanukovych in December following his refusal to sign a free trade pact with the European Union.

Russia suspended the disbursement of a $15-billion loan after Mr. Yanukovych was overthrown in February.

Gazprom head Alexei Miller said Ukraine no longer qualified for the discount because it had run up a huge debt for earlier supplies exceeding $1.7 billion.

The new head of Ukraine’s state energy company Naftogaz, Andrei Kobolev, said the Russian move was “clearly in accordance with the contract.”

The Naftogaz chief is expected to visit Moscow this week for talks with Gazprom.

At the same time Russia has not acted on its threat to cancel another gas price discount Ukraine received in 2010 under an agreement to extend the Russian lease of a naval base in Crimea. Had it done so, the price would have soared to $480 per 1,000 cubic metres of gas.

The International Monetary Fund has agreed a $14-18 billion standby credit for Ukraine, in exchange for painful economic reforms that are expected to be launched after the presidential elections scheduled for May 25.

The NATO Secretary-General said on Tuesday he could not “confirm that Russia is withdrawing its troops” from the Ukrainian border.

“This is not what we are seeing,” Anders Fogh Rasmussen told reporters at ahead of a two-day meeting of NATO’s members in Brussels.

Ministers from the 28 alliance members are meeting to discuss ways to boost NATO’s military presence in central and eastern Europe.

In Ukraine, the authorities have moved to crack down on far right militants who helped them topple the Yanukovych government.

The Ukrainian Parliament on Tuesday directed the security services to disarm the illegal self-defence groups that sprang up during the protests against the previous government.

The move came a day after a shooting in the capital Kiev involving activists of the extreme nationalist Right Sector group in which three people were wounded, including a deputy Mayor of Kiev.

Following the shooting police drove out the Right Sector from its headquarters in a Kiev hotel and discovered weapons inside.

Last week, a Right Sector militant was killed in a police raid against his gang in western Ukraine. The group threatened to take revenge on Interior Minister Arsen Avakov.

Mr. Avakov said 8,000 guns had been surrendered since the end of the protests, but at least 3,000 illegal weapons were still “in uncontrolled circulation.”

Despite the government crackdown on the Right Sector its leader Dmitry Yarosh has been registered as a candidate in the upcoming presidential poll.

Russia has accused Ukrainian nationalists of intimidating ethnic Russians living in Ukraine. Russian immigration authorities said on Monday that hundreds of Russians have fled Ukraine for Russia in recent weeks.

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