Russia’s latest threats to cut off natural gas supplies to Kiev are part and parcel of its growing push to force the West to back down in the battle for Ukraine.
Russia is unsheathing its energy weapon once again, threatening to cut off its natural gas shipments to Ukraine and warning of potentially dire impacts on Europeans reliant on energy deliveries that come through the war-torn state.
The move marks the second time Russian strongman Vladimir Putin has thumbed his nose at the West in recent days. On Monday, Feb. 23, Russia offered to sell advanced air-defense systems to Iran in defiance of pleas from Washington and its allies to avoid arming Tehran. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and other senior administration officials, meanwhile, have threatened to increase the sanctions on Russia in response to its continued support for the separatist rebels making major gains in eastern Ukraine. On Tuesday, Kerry said in congressional testimony that Russia baldly lied to him about its involvement there.
Putin has basically rejected those demands out of hand. Now, he’s reopening an old front in his pushback against the West by using his country’s natural gas wealth as a bludgeon to try to get his way on other issues. The latest gambit seems part of a multipronged campaign to force Washington and its allies to accede to Moscow’s land grab. Even as the United States grapples with Russia over the fate of Ukraine, it is seeking Russian help to pressure Iran into abandoning its nuclear weapons program. Putin is using the latter to help push back against the former.
“Russia is upping the ante for the West. They are basically saying, back off over Ukraine, or we will raise the stakes in the Iran talks, as we know you need us to broker a solution,” said Sijbren de Jong, an analyst at the Hague Centre for Strategic Studies. “It all fits together. Russia knows like no other how to play one power off against the other.”
The latest chapter in the long-running gas saga between Kiev and Moscow came Monday, when Ukraine’s gas company complained that contracted shipments from Russia had been cut in half. On Tuesday, Russian energy giant Gazprom warned it might have to stop gas shipments to Ukraine due to a dispute over payments.
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