Russia hikes gas price for Ukraine

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People pass by barricades near the Dnipro Hotel in Kiev, Ukraine, Tuesday, April 1, 2014. A tense standoff between Ukrainian police and a radical nationalist group Right Sector ended Tuesday, when its members surrendered their weapons and left a downtown hotel. Their departure followed a shooting spree in the capital, in which a Right Sector member shot and wounded three people outside a restaurant adjacent to the capital’s main Independence Square, including a deputy mayor of the capital. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

People pass by barricades near the Dnipro Hotel in Kiev, Ukraine, Tuesday, April 1, 2014. A tense standoff between Ukrainian police and a radical nationalist group Right Sector ended Tuesday, when its members surrendered their weapons and left a downtown hotel. Their departure followed a shooting spree in the capital, in which a Right Sector member shot and wounded three people outside a restaurant adjacent to the capital’s main Independence Square, including a deputy mayor of the capital. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

A woman speaks to riot police officers at the Hotel Dnipro in Kiev, Ukraine, Tuesday, April 1, 2014. A tense standoff between Ukrainian police and a radical nationalist group Right Sector ended Tuesday, when its members surrendered their weapons and left a downtown hotel. Their departure followed a shooting spree in the capital, in which a Right Sector member shot and wounded three people outside a restaurant adjacent to the capital’s main Independence Square, including a deputy mayor of the capital. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

Self-Defense activists pass by the Dnipro Hotel in Kiev, Ukraine, Tuesday, April 1, 2014. A tense standoff between Ukrainian police and a radical nationalist group Right Sector ended Tuesday, when its members surrendered their weapons and left a downtown hotel. Their departure followed a shooting spree in the capital, in which a Right Sector member shot and wounded three people outside a restaurant adjacent to the capital’s main Independence Square, including a deputy mayor of the capital. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

Riot police officers guard entrance in the Hotel Dnipro in Kiev, Ukraine, Tuesday, April 1, 2014. A tense standoff between Ukrainian police and a radical nationalist group Right Sector ended Tuesday, when its members surrendered their weapons and left a downtown hotel. Their departure followed a shooting spree in the capital, in which a Right Sector member shot and wounded three people outside a restaurant adjacent to the capital’s main Independence Square, including a deputy mayor of the capital. (AP Photo/Efrem Lukatsky)

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MOSCOW (AP) — Russia on Tuesday sharply hiked the price for natural gas to Ukraine and threatened to reclaim billions previous discounts, raising the heat on its cash-strapped government, while Ukrainian police moved to disarm members of a radical nationalist group after a shooting spree in the capital.

Alexei Miller, the head of Russia’s state-controlled Gazprom natural gas giant, said Tuesday that the company has withdrawn December’s discount that put the price of gas at $268.50 per 1,000 cubic meters and set the price at $385.50 per 1,000 cubic meters for the second quarter.

The discount was part of a financial lifeline which Russian President Vladimir Putin offered to Ukraine’s President, Viktor Yanukovych, after his decision to ditch a pact with the European Union in favor of closer ties with Moscow. The move fueled three months of protests which led Yanukovych to flee to Russia in February.

Radical nationalist groups played a key role in Yanukovych’s ouster, but they quickly fell out with the new government. Many activists are still encamped on Kiev’s Independence Square, known as the Maidan, and have signaled their intent to remain there until the election of what they deem to be a legitimate government.

Last week, one of the leaders of the most prominent radical group, the Right Sector, was shot dead while resisting police.

Right Sector members then besieged parliament for several hours, breaking windows and demanding the resignation of Interior Minister Arsen Avakov. They lifted the blockade after lawmakers set up a panel to investigate the killing.

Late Monday, a Right Sector member shot and wounded three people outside a restaurant adjacent to Kiev’s main Independence Square, including a deputy city mayor, triggering a standoff that lasted overnight.

Police responded by surrounding the downtown Dnipro Hotel, which Right Sector had commandeered as its headquarters, demanding that the radicals lay down their weapons and leave. Avakov said that Right Sector members got into buses Tuesday morning leaving their weapons behind and headed to a suburban camp under the escort of officers of Ukraine’s Security Service.

The Ukrainian parliament then voted to order police to disarm all illegal armed units. Backers of the measure said the drive was needed to combat a recent surge in violent crime and to defuse the risk of provocations by “foreign citizens” in Kiev and the south and east of Ukraine, heavily Russian-speaking regions where anti-government groups have rallied over the past several weekends in calls for secession.

In March, authorities launched a broad appeal for the voluntary surrender of weapons, many of which went astray from police depots during months of unrest. The government has said a similar amnesty will remain in effect in April.

If police disarm nationalists and other radical groups, it would undermine Russia’s key argument: the allegation that the new Ukrainian government was kowtowing to nationalist radicals, who threaten Russian-speakers in southeastern Ukraine. Russia has pointed at the perceived threat from ultranationalists to defend its annexation of Crimea, and has concentrated tens of thousands of troops along its border with Ukraine, drawing Western fears of an invasion.

Putin and other officials have said that Russia has no intention of invading Ukraine. Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu insisted Tuesday that the Kremlin wants a “political settlement that would take into account interests and rights of the entire Ukrainian people” and had no intention to threaten Ukraine’s statehood.

At the same time, Russia has used financial levers to hit Ukraine that is teetering on the verge of bankruptcy.

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