As Putin pushes Ukraine to bend to his will and allow greater independence to Russian-backed separatists in the country’s southeast, the Russian president holds a trump card: Winter is coming.
“I think that nobody thinks of [winter] anymore, except Russia,” Putin said on Sunday, according to The New York Times. “There are ways of helping resolve the issue. First, to immediately stop hostilities and start restoring the necessary infrastructure. To start replenishing reserves, conducting the necessary repair operations and preparing for the cold season.”
Geysar Gurbanov, a Rotary International World Peace Fellow currently at Harvard, recently explained the leverage that Putin has over Ukraine as the temperature drops.
“According to the U.S. Energy Information Agency, [Ukraine’s] primary energy consumption is fuelled by natural gas (40%) and coal (28%),” Gurbanov writes in The Duke Chronicle. “With winter coming to Ukraine in less than four months and the coal mines located in the easternmost part of the country ravaged by conflict, Ukrainians will freeze in their homes as their gas supplies from Russia are depleted. Therefore, if the rebels fail to achieve their goal, Gazprom, Russia’s energy giant, will help Putin to win the war eventually.”
So Putin’s remark could be interpreted as a veiled threat signaling that if Ukraine’s army doesn’t back down against the separatists (and embedded Russian soldiers), then Moscow will use gas a a weapon.
In 2013, Russian gas accounted for half of the total gas consumed in Ukraine. On June 16, Russia cut off gas supplies to Ukraine over unpaid bills. Earlier this month, Gazprom said that Ukraine’s outstanding debt for gas supplies stood at $US5.3 billion as of August 1.
Russia has already said that Ukraine would have to prepay for future gas shipments unless Kiev begins payments on accumulated debts. The EU is currently trying to broker a deal would allow shipments to resume temporarily.
In any case, Putin has the upper hand as Ukraine’s gas reserves run out as winter sets in.
“Can Ukraine now survive without Russian gas? No, it can’t,” Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk said earlier this month, according to RIA Novosti. “How much Russian gas do we need to buy? About 5 billion cubic meters.”
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