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Russia cuts gas supply to Ukraine as tensions soar

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FILE – In this Wednesday May 21, 2014 file photo, a Ukrainian worker operates a valve in a gas storage point in Bil ‘che-Volicko-Ugerske underground gas storage facilities in Strij, outside Lviv, Ukraine. Russia on Monday, June 16, 2014, cut gas supplies to Ukraine as a payment deadline passed and negotiators failed to reach a deal on gas prices and unpaid bills amid continued fighting in eastern Ukraine. The decision does not immediately affect the gas flow to Europe, but could disrupt the long-term energy supply to the region if the issue is not resolved, analysts said. (AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov, file)

FILE – In this Wednesday May 21, 2014 file photo, a Ukrainian worker operates a valve in a gas storage point in Bil ‘che-Volicko-Ugerske underground gas storage facilities in Strij, outside Lviv, Ukraine. Russia on Monday, June 16, 2014, cut gas supplies to Ukraine as a payment deadline passed and negotiators failed to reach a deal on gas prices and unpaid bills amid continued fighting in eastern Ukraine. The decision does not immediately affect the gas flow to Europe, but could disrupt the long-term energy supply to the region if the issue is not resolved, analysts said. (AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov, file)

Russian state-run natural giant Gazprom CEO Alexei Miller speaks at a news conference in Moscow, Russia, Monday, June 16, 2014. Russia on Monday said it would cut off gas supplies to Ukraine as a payment deadline passed and negotiators failed to reach a deal on gas prices and unpaid bills. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

The headquarters of Russia’s state-run natural gas giant Gazprom in Moscow, Russia, Monday, June 16, 2014. Russia said on Monday it would cut off gas supplies to Ukraine as a payment deadline passed and negotiators failed to reach a deal on gas prices. Gazprom spokesman Sergei Kupriyanov said Moscow had no legal grounds to supply Ukraine with any more gas because Ukraine had not paid its bills.(AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)

Ukraine Energy Minister Yuriy Prodan to speak to reporters outside the government building in Kiev, Ukraine, Monday, June 16, 2014. A Monday deadline approached with no sign of progress in resolving a months-long dispute over exactly how much Ukraine owes Russia for past natural gas deliveries and what price the nation should pay for future supplies. (AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov)

European Union energy chief Guenther Oetinger speaks to reporters outside the government building in Kiev, Ukraine, Sunday, June 15, 2014. A Monday deadline approached with no sign of progress in resolving a months-long dispute over exactly how much Ukraine owes Russia for past natural gas deliveries and what price the nation should pay for future supplies. The two sides, along with Oettinger, held talks Saturday in Kiev, but no results were announced and officials would not comment Sunday. (AP Photo/Sergei Chuzavkov)

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MOSCOW (AP) — Russia halted natural gas deliveries to Ukraine on Monday, spurning Ukraine’s offer to pay some of its multibillion-dollar gas debt and demanding upfront payments for future supplies.

The decision, coming amid deep tensions over eastern Ukraine, provoked strong words from both sides but does not immediately affect the crucial flow of Russian gas to Europe. Ukraine has enough reserves to last until December, according to the head of its state gas company Naftogaz.

Still, the Russian move could disrupt Europe’s long-term energy supplies if the issue is not resolved, analysts said. Previous gas disputes left Ukraine and some Balkan nations shivering for nearly two weeks in the dead of winter.

The gas conflict is part of a wider dispute over whether Ukraine aligns itself with Russia or with the 28-nation European Union and comes amid a crisis in relations following Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in March. Ukraine accuses Russia of supporting an armed separatist insurgency in its eastern regions, which Russia denies.

Ukraine’s new president, meanwhile, said Monday that he will propose a detailed peace plan this week that includes a cease-fire with the separatist rebels. But before that happens, the armed forces must secure control over Ukraine’s porous border with Russia, President Petro Poroshenko said at a meeting of his national security council.

“As soon as the border is closed, we can immediately declare a cease-fire,” he said. “Declaring a cease-fire while the border is open would be irresponsible.”

There was no immediate response from the separatists to Poroshenko’s comments.

Ukraine, one of the most energy inefficient countries in Europe, has been chronically behind on payments for the Russian natural gas needed to heat its homes and fuel its industries. In addition, Russia had been giving its neighbor cut-rate sweetheart deals on gas for various political reasons, a practice that came to a halt April 1.

Russia had demanded $1.95 billion by Monday for past-due bills. At talks over the weekend in Kiev, Ukraine was ready to accept a compromise of paying $1 billion now and more later, but Russia rejected the offer, the European Commission said.

Sergei Kupriyanov, spokesman for Russian gas giant Gazprom, said since Ukraine missed the deadline, from now on it had to pay in advance for energy. Yet that’s a nearly impossible demand for the cash-strapped nation, which is fighting an insurgency and investigating possibly billions lost to corruption under its former pro-Russian president, Viktor Yanukovych.

EU member states got 24 percent of their gas in 2012 from Russia, according to industry association Eurogas, and about half of that goes through the pipelines across Ukraine. In 2013, Ukraine imported nearly 26 billion cubic meters of gas from Russia, just over half of its annual consumption.

Kupriyanov said Russian gas supplies for Europe will continue through Ukrainian pipelines as planned and warned Ukraine to make sure they reach European customers.

Analyst Tim Ash at Standard Bank PLC said Ukraine could in theory simply take what it wants, since gas deliveries in the pipelines are intermingled. That would result in a shortage in gas to Europe that could hinder building up enough stored

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