KIEV (AFP) ― Europe faced gas supply disruptions Monday after Ukraine failed to broker an 11th-hour deal with Russia in a feud that has stoked the worst East-West crisis since the Cold War.
Ukraine hosted the last-gasp talks hoping to keep an energy shortage from compounding the new pro-Western leaders’ problems as they confront a two-month separatist insurgency threatening the very survival of their ex-Soviet state.
But a top official from Russia’s state gas firm Gazprom told AFP that talks stretching through the night had failed to bridge the two sides’ acrimonious disagreement over price and how much debt Kiev owed Moscow.
“We reached no agreement and the chances that we will meet again are slim ― we are already on the plane heading back (to Moscow),” official Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kuprianov said by telephone.
“If we receive no pre-payment by 10:00 a.m., then we obviously will deliver no gas.”
Ukrainian Energy Minister Yuriy Prodan said Kiev would now try to secure greater gas shipments from its western European neighbors to make up for the lost Russian supplies.
And the European Commission said it was “convinced that a solution is still possible” despite Russia’s rejection of the interim deal proposed in Kiev by EU Energy Commissioner Guenther Oettinger.
The third “gas war” between Russia and Ukraine since 2006 flared when Moscow nearly doubled its rates in the wake of a deadly winter uprising that pulled Kiev out of the Kremlin’s historic orbit for the first time.
Ukraine receives half its gas from Russia and transports 15 percent of the fuel consumed in Europe ― a reality that prompted Oettinger to urgently step in and try to break up the feud.
Kiev said it was ready to make a $1.95 billion payment demanded by Moscow if Russia agreed to cut its ongoing rate to $326 from $485.50 for 1,000 cubic meters of gas.
But Russian President Vladimir Putin had insisted that $385 per 1,000 cubic meters was his final offer.
The European Commission said Oettinger suggested that Kiev pay $1 billion Monday and the rest of the unpaid debt in instalments stretching through the end of the year.
Oettinger also proposed that Ukraine accept the $385 figure demanded by Putin in the winter and see its rate drop to $300 “or a few dollars more” during summer months.
“The Ukrainian side was ready to accept this, but for the moment the Russian partners were not,” the European Commission said in a statement.
“The Russian side insisted on immediate payment of $1.9 billion, and an overall price of $385.”
The gas talks were further clouded by a new diplomatic row that exploded after Ukraine’s acting foreign minister called Putin “a prick” while trying to restrain protesters who attacked Moscow’s embassy compound in Kiev on Saturday.
Nationalists with signs reading “Kremlin ― hands off Ukraine!” tore down the embassy’s Russian tricolor while others smashed its windows and overturned diplomats’ cars.
Ukraine and the West accuse Russia of supplying rocket launchers and even tanks to the insurgents in a bid to break up its western neighbor following the February ouster of a pro-Kremlin regime.
The embassy protest came in response to the deaths of 49 servicemen killed Saturday when pro-Kremlin rebels downed their military transport plane with weapons Kiev believes were supplied by Moscow.
Ukraine’s acting Defense Minister Mykhailo Koval said the government Monday will consider declaring martial law in the eastern Donetsk region where the deadliest fighting was witnessed in recent weeks.
Acting Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsya put himself in the crosshairs of the diplomatic spat by being filmed being telling protesters “Putin is a prick” in a bid to calm the seething crowd.
The insult has become something of a catchphrase for pro-Kiev Ukrainians after it was chanted by local football fans at a match and then went viral on the Internet.
But Deshchytsya’s comments became headline news in Russia and the anger among senior Moscow figures was palpable.
Deshchytsya “allowed himself to make comments that cross all lines of decency,” said Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.