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Russia hikes gas price for Ukraine

By Vladimir Isachenkov

Associated Press

Published: Tuesday, April 1 2014 10:45 a.m. MDT

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, speaks to Tatarstan regional leader Rustam Minnikhanov, back to camera, during a meeting at the Novo-Ogaryovo residence outside Moscow, Russia, Tuesday, April 1, 2014. Minnikhanov, who visited Crimea to attend a congress of Crimean Tatars, discussed their demands with Putin.

Mikhail Klimentyev, Associated Press

MOSCOW — 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.

NATO foreign ministers were gathering for a two-day meeting in Brussels to consider further steps in the wake of Russia's annexation of Crimea, including measures to reassure the Baltic states, Poland, and Romania that the alliance would help guarantee their security.

Alexei Miller, the head of Russia's state-controlled Gazprom natural gas giant, said Tuesday that the company has withdrawn December's discount that put the price of gas at $268.50 per 1,000 cubic meters and set the price at $385.50 per 1,000 cubic meters for the second quarter.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 agreed Tuesday to leave their weapons behind and went to a suburban camp, escorted by 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 interests and rights of the entire Ukrainian people into account."

NATO Secretary General Anders Fogh Rasmussen said he couldn't confirm reports of a Russian pullback from Ukraine's borders.

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