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Putin warns of gas cuts for delay on payments

RUSSIAN Prime Minister Vladimir Putin warned that Moscow would halt gas deliveries to Ukraine if payments were not received tomorrow, possibly disrupting supplies to Europe.

Ukraine is the main transit route for Russian gas exports to Europe, and a dispute over prices with Russia in January disrupted supplies to many countries.

"If as a result of law enforcement actions and arrests of a number of officials there will be no payment (for Russian gas deliveries), it will lead to the stoppage of our energy deliveries to our customers in Ukraine as well as customers in Europe," Putin said yesterday.

He was speaking after Ukraine's SBU security service, which reports to President Viktor Yushchenko, unsuccessfully tried yesterday to gain entry to the offices of the authority overseeing Ukraine's gas pipelines.

It was the second such incident in as many days.

On Wednesday armed SBU officers burst into the offices of Ukraine's national energy company Naftogaz as it was about to settle the Russian gas bill. Naftogaz said it had paid 80 percent of the February gas bill and would settle the rest by yesterday.

The raids highlight the increasing tension between Ukrainian President Yushchenko and its Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko. Yushchenko has criticized the prime minister for her conduct in clinching a deal in January under which Ukraine is to pay far more for imported Russian gas.

A spokeswoman for Ukrtransgaz, which runs Ukraine's pipelines, said a group of unarmed men had demanded entry to the building yesterday. She said the group presented no documents or warrants.

But the group left Naftogaz's premises after about an hour following a standoff with members of parliament who had rushed to the scene.

Tymoshenko told the Cabinet that the security forces were out of control and acting at the president's behest.


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