Ukraine leader takes on gas, Obama, Putin in defining week

Ukraine`s new pro-Western leader enters a defining week on Sunday seeking to head off a Russian gas cut and secure US President Barack Obama`s backing with his country threatened by civil war.

AFP| Last Updated: Jun 02, 2014, 00:40 AM IST

Kiev: Ukraine`s new pro-Western leader enters a defining week on Sunday seeking to head off a Russian gas cut and secure US President Barack Obama`s backing with his country threatened by civil war.
Confectionery tycoon Petro Poroshenko will also attempt to arrange the first meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin since the February ouster of a pro-Kremlin regime in Kiev sparked the worst East-West crisis since the Cold War.

And it ends Saturday with the 48-year-old sworn in as the fifth president of Ukraine after a convincing first-round May 25 election win handed him a mandate to resolve a separatist insurgency threatening the very survival of the ex-Soviet state.

"These meetings will be crucial," said Kiev-based political analyst Volodymyr Fesenko.

"They will help establish direct relations and introduce Petro Poroshenko to world leaders -- first and foremost, Barack Obama."

Ukraine`s third "gas war" with Russia in less than a decade erupted when Moscow -- stunned by the sudden ouster of an ally who had just rejected an EU alliance that the Kremlin greatly feared -- nearly doubled the price it charges its neighbour for the fuel.

Kiev accused Moscow of "economic aggression" and refused to cover a bill that Russia puts at USD 5.17 billion.

Russian gas transits through Ukraine supply about 15 percent of European needs and a top EU envoy is now urgently seeking a compromise that could save 18 member states from seeing supply cuts go into effect Wednesday.

A final round of talks has been set for Monday in Brussels after Ukraine`s Naftogaz state energy firm -- bowing to both EU and Kremlin pressure -- transferred a $786 million payment to its Russian counterpart Gazprom to keep the talks alive.

Gazprom now says it is willing to discuss a lower price and analysts believe that a compromise is in sight.

"Our view is that Gazprom and Naftogaz will eventually reach a compromise," Moscow`s VTB Capital investment bank said in a research note.