The boss of Russian energy firm Gazprom has hinted it could turn off the gas taps to Ukraine over an unpaid gas bill.
The prospect floated into view on Friday when the smaller country missed a payment deadline for February gas supplies.
The comments could add pressure to the political conflict between the two nations ever since Ukraine’s President Yanukovych was ousted from power by pro-Western protestors in February.
Ukrainian state gas company Naftogaz owes Russian energy firm Gazprom nearly $2 billion (£1.2bn) for gas supplied last year.
Gazprom’s Chairman Alexey Miller hinted at an ultimatum of sorts for Ukraine on Friday, suggesting there could be a return to the 2009 crisis – when it turned off the gas taps – if Ukraine doesn’t pay up.
He told reporters: “Given the discount for the first quarter the outstanding debt has increased to $1.89 billion (£1.1bn).
“Factually it means that Ukraine has stopped paying for gas. This contravenes the contract terms and international trade practice. But we can’t deliver gas for free,” reported RT.
Last week Gazprom said it would scrap the discount for gas prices it gives to Ukraine.
After a meeting between Mr Miller and Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev last Tuesday which touched on the gas debt, Gazprom’s Chairman said his firm would “remove the discount starting from this April”.
British industrial energy users have raised alarm at the potential hike in gas prices which could follow a restriction in gas supplies pumped through Ukraine.