MOSCOW — Russia threatened Saturday to cut off natural gas to Ukraine within a week unless the Ukrainians pay nearly $300 million owed for previous deliveries, news reports said.
A cutoff of Russian natural gas could be disastrous for Ukraine, which is in the midst of a fuel crisis. The action also would heighten tensions between the two most powerful former Soviet republics, already at odds over control of nuclear weapons, payment of the former Soviet foreign debt and ownership of the Black Sea fleet.
Rem Vyakhirev, head of the state gas company Gazprom, said deliveries would be suspended on Thursday. A telegram notifying the government in Kiev of the decision was sent Friday, the Interfax and Itar-Tass news agencies said.
Vyakhirev said Ukraine's failure to pay for January's deliveries made it impossible to pay gas company workers in northern Russia, Interfax reported.
According to Vyakhirev, Ukraine's gas bill is $295 million.