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Meanwhile in Europe
Ukraine Heats Up as Gas Shutoff Looms

While the world (rightly) has its eyes on Iraq, the conflict in Ukraine is also escalating. After a series of setbacks, the government has won a victory against pro-Russian rebels: The port city of Mariupol is back in Kiev’s hands. But Mariupol has changed hands before, so this win may be temporary. And if the rebels do try to take back Mariupol, they will have new weapons to help them do so: tanks. The BBC reports:

The appearance of the tanks, filmed in various towns in the Donetsk region, sparked a row between Kiev and Moscow, with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko protesting to his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin.

Russia denied Ukrainian allegations that the tanks had entered Ukraine from its territory.

With all this as a backdrop, the next significant event in the conflict will be Monday, when Russia is set to cut off gas supplies to Ukraine if an agreement is not reached over pricing. The two sides appear to have reached an impasse, with Ukraine offering to pay back $1.9 billion of its debts if Gazprom agrees to a rate of $326 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas, while Moscow has stuck to $385 as its lowest offer. Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk accused Moscow of sabotaging talks and warned his country to prepare for the shutoff on Monday.

Putin’s gambit seems to be to keep Ukraine maximally and permanently destabilized, and to extract the maximum amount of money from the impoverished Kiev government—much of which will have to come from Western coffers. It’s a clever strategy that doesn’t have an easy counter in the near term. But it is also a dangerous one: an all-out civil war just across his border complicates Putin’s calculus immeasurably.

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  • Andrew Allison

    Not to defend Russian opportunism, but It looks a little different to me: Ukraine owes Gazprom $4 billion. Gazprom has told Ukraine that if it doesn’t pay $1.95 billion of that debt, future deliveries must be paid for in advance ( and absent advance payments there will be no deliveries. Ukraine has demanded a reduction in the price of future deliveries before paying. Seems to me that if the gas gets shut off, it’s a result of Ukrainian delusions regarding their negotiating strength rather than Russian machinations.

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