If Ukraine is going to receive the Russian gas it needs to meet demand this winter, the West will have to fork over some cash to cover the bill. At least, that’s the line Putin is touting, part of Moscow’s insistence on European and American guarantees of Kiev’s ability to pay for that gas before Gazprom resumes flows. Reuters reports:
“We think that it is absolutely fair that these risks be shared with us by the European or American partners,” Putin told an informal group of experts on Russia that includes many Western specialists critical of him. “Let them give $1.5 billion, at least for a month,” he said. […]He urged the European Union and the International Monetary Fund to give Ukraine a bridge loan to settle the gas dispute with Russia before Kiev gets a $3 billion tranche from the IMF in January.“Help Ukraine, give it a bridge loan for a month,” Putin said, adding that so far he has got a negative response.
It’s been clear that this has been an aim of Putin’s from the start, but to hear it put so explicitly by the man himself will rankle Western policymakers already feeling the stress of Russia’s considerable energy leverage. But it isn’t clear that Europe has many other options than to pay: Ukraine is hardly an economic dynamo, and already owes billions in unpaid gas bills. The continent sources roughly a third of its gas supplies from Russia, and half of those flows transit Ukraine at some point. If Ukraine’s own supplies from Russia don’t resume, it’s likely that Kiev will begin siphoning off this transiting gas, as we saw in similar situations in 2006 and 2009.Putin knows Kiev isn’t the cash cow here; he understands that the bigger target is the West more broadly, and sees the stand-off with Ukraine as a chance to leech resources from his geopolitical adversaries.