Russia threatened yesterday to disrupt gas supplies to Europe within days, opening a new front in the showdown over Ukraine.
President Putin demanded immediate advance payments from Kiev to keep the gas taps on in the depths of winter. Cutting off gas would be likely to hit transit flows to Europe.
His ultimatum came on the day that the EU announced ambitious plans for an “energy union” to end Russia’s energy stranglehold over the continent.
Officials admitted, however, that it would take many years and an investment of €1 trillion in infrastructure to achieve energy security after delays caused by previous failed attempts at better EU co-operation.
With the United States yesterday accusing “Russia and the forces it is supporting” of continuing to flout the ceasefire agreed two weeks ago, Mr Putin increased his rhetoric against the government in Ukraine.
Criticising Kiev for cutting off gas to eastern regions under the control of pro-Russian separatists, Mr Putin said: “Imagine these people will be left without gas in winter. Not only that there is famine . . . It smells of genocide.”