Anchor Marco Werman speaks with BBC Moscow correspondent Rupert Winfield Hayes about the dispute over natural gas between Russia and Ukraine.
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MARCO: The natural gas dispute between Russia and Ukraine got a little nastier today. The Russians accused Ukraine of stealing gas intended for other European countries. Ukrainian officials denied it. Yesterday the Russians shut down their gas exports to Ukraine in a dispute over the tab from 2008. BBC Moscow correspondent Rupert Winfield Hayes is following the story. He says that in spite of the shutdown Ukraine has about a three-month supply of natural gas in reserve.
RUPERT: Until the last week or so it's been a very warm winter in Russia and Ukraine so they haven't had to use much of their reserve. So they're in a, a reasonably good position at the moment, but in the longer term they have to resolve this. They are heavily, heavily dependent on Russia for their energy supplies for industry, for heating, for everything. The problem for Ukraine is that their economy is in a really, really bad state right now. The world financial crisis has hit them very, very hard and they don't have the money to pay the price that, uh, Russia is asking for this gas.
MARCO: How has, uh, this all affected gas supplies for the rest of Europe where most of this gas is destined?
RUPERT: Well, a lot of gas crosses through Ukraine's pipelines to the rest of Europe to countries like Germany, France, Italy, and that gas is continuing to flow at the moment. And Russian, uh, gas company Gazprom has gone, it says, out of its way to make sure that those gas supplies are maintained. The Ukrainians, as well, have said that they will not touch that gas, uh, and so at the moment it's fine. But everybody remembers what happened three years ago in 2006 when a very similar dispute happened then. Gas supplies to Europe, after a few days of it, this, this dispute, those gas supplies started to suddenly disappear. So there, there's a lot of nervousness in Europe that, uh, that this could lead to, uh, problems in a few days or if it goes on for a week. They're very, very worried.
MARCO: Could Russia, uh, use other transit countries for its gas?
RUPERT: It is planning to completely bypass Ukraine in the coming years if it can. It wants to
build a pipeline that's called Nord Stream. It will go down the Baltic Sea. It's gonna cost several billion dollars to build, but that is the plan that Russia has.
MARCO: Rupert, just remind us what the dispute over this natural gas between Russia and Ukraine is really all about?
RUPERT: Beneath the surface there is this deep political animosity between Ukraine and Russia. Russia sees Ukraine as being part of the Slavic family, if you like. Russia and Ukraine were one country until 1991. Now, Ukraine has if you like, turned its back on its Russian brothers in Moscow and wants to be part of Europe, wants to join NATO. And, you know, Russia is really, really angry about this and so it likes to use, you know, every method it can to undermine the Ukrainian government. And gas, by cutting off gas that is one way that Russia can undermine the leadership in Kiev.
MARCO: The BBC's Rupert Winfield Hayes in Moscow. Thank you very much.