Putin Sees Hint of Genocide in Ukraine Cutting Energy to East

President Vladimir Putin defended Russian gas supplies to Ukraine’s rebel-held eastern regions, saying the government in Kiev’s move to cut energy supplies “smells a bit like genocide.”

Ukraine must ensure energy supplies to its eastern regions under the Minsk peace agreement, signed Feb. 12, which has international legal status and must be observed, Putin told reporters at his residence near Moscow.

Russia’s OAO Gazprom, which provides about 30 percent of the European Union’s gas, has threatened to cut off supplies to Ukraine when prepaid volumes run out. Ukraine’s national energy company on Tuesday refused to make a further advance payment while Gazprom is charging it for shipments to the separatist areas, saying it can’t account for the volumes.

“Imagine that these people are left without gas in winter,” Putin said. “Isn’t it enough that there’s famine there, as well as the OSCE finding it to be a humanitarian catastrophe. And then they turn off the gas. What is that called? It already smells a bit like genocide.”

Russia will have to halt gas flows to Ukraine if no prepayment is made and that may threaten transit to the European Union, Putin said, adding that he hopes there will be no reason for a cut. The current advance payment may run out in three to four days, he said.

Gazprom is not committing a violation by supplying fuel via Ukraine’s eastern border, he said.

Gas deliveries to the east of Ukraine should be seen as humanitarian aid after NAK Naftogaz Ukrainy stopped its own shipments to the areas on Feb. 18, Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev told the government in Moscow last week.

Naftogaz said Feb. 19 that it has resumed sending sufficient gas volumes to the east, although less than previously. The rebels have denied that.