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Ukraine closes airspace to Russian planes over gas supply row

Tensions between Russia and Ukraine have escalated further after Ukraine decided to stop buying Russian natural gas and closed its airspace to its eastern neighbour.

Russia's state-controlled gas company Gazprom said that it stopped sending gas to Ukraine on Wednesday morning and will supply no more because Ukraine has not paid in advance for more deliveries.

However, Ukraine said it was its own decision to stop buying gas from Russia after it was offered better prices from other European countries. Those other countries import gas from Russia but can pipe it back to Ukraine.

Ukrainian prime minister Arseny Yatsenyuk also announced that his government has decided to close the country's airspace to all Russian planes as "an issue of the national security as well as a response to Russia's aggressive actions".

Ukraine last month banned all Russian airlines from flying into Ukraine, but Russian planes have been allowed to fly over its territory.

The gas stoppage comes less than two months after the two countries signed an EU-brokered deal ensuring supplies through the winter.

Under the deal, Russia lowered the price it charged Ukraine to the same level granted to neighbouring countries, from 251 US dollars (£166) per 1,000 cubic meters to about 230 dollars (£152).

Gazprom chief executive Alexei Miller warned Ukraine and Europe of possible gas disruptions following the cut-off. Russia uses Ukraine's pipelines to transport a part of its gas deliveries to other European countries.

Ukraine's "refusal to buy Russian gas threatens a safe gas transit to Europe through Ukraine and gas supplies to Ukraine consumers in the coming winter", Mr Miller said.

He added Ukraine had been buying up gas to store for the coming winter in the past two months but claimed it was not enough to get it through the winter.

Past gas disputes between Russia and Ukraine have led to cut-offs. One stand-off in 2009 caused serious disruptions in shipments to EU countries in the middle of winter.

Temperatures in Ukraine, where most homes rely on gas for central heating, were below freezing on Wednesday morning.

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