A conference in Geneva between the US, Europe, Ukraine and Russia has been scheduled for Thursday. This follows Russia’s threat to end gas flow to Ukraine and possibly a third of Europe in extension. The meeting arises in the midst of continuing tension between Russia and the EU. Between the threats, growing military presence and Russia’s EU vote removal, Thursday is positioned to shed light on events – and whatever’s lurking in the shadows is guaranteed to be unpleasant.
The Russian gas company, Gazprom, says that Ukraine’s bill has exceeded $2.2 billion. Following the announcement Russian president Vladimir Putin’s office warned that the “critical” situation could affect deliveries of gas to Europe. Coming a month after Russia’s attempted annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, this has chilly implications.
Russian company Gazprom said they would be “compelled” to demand advance payment from Kiev, but President Putin has asked them to hold off until after talks with “our partners”. In a letter sent by Russia to European leaders announcing Gazprom’s intentions, Putin said “It is also essential to take into account the actual investments, contributions and expenditures that Russia has shouldered by itself alone for such a long time in supporting Ukraine.” According to contracts between Ukraine and Russia, prices have been discounted to the country for years. However, in recent months the debt to Russia has continued to grow.
The US state department later said it condemned “Russia’s efforts to use energy as a tool of coercion against Ukraine”. Mr Putin remarked that Russia was “prepared to participate in the effort to stabilise and restore Ukraine’s economy” but only on “equal terms” with the EU. Thursday will see all sides negotiate over how to appease or persuade Russia. Ukraine reportedly has a month’s worth of natural gas in reserve in case of the lines being shut down.
If it comes to blows, U.S. troops are poised to aid NATO if needed. Nato released satellite images claimed to show near 40,000 Russian troops near the Ukrainian border in late March and early April, along with tanks, armoured vehicles, artillery and aircraft. U.S. Air Force Gen. Philip Breedlove commented that, “What we see there is a force of about 40,000… I would characterize it as a combined arms army. In other words, this is an army that has all of the provisioning and enablers that it needs to accomplish military objectives if given them.”