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By Samuel R. Avro on Jan 19, 2009 with no responses

Putin Praised at Home, Vilified Across Europe For Ukraine Gas Spat

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Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin.

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin is receiving a wealth of applause from his fellow countrymen for his strong-arm tactics in dealing with Ukraine over the natural-gas contract disagreement between the two countries.

The ongoing row between Moscow and Kiev has left many European countries without heat during one of the coldest winters in recent years.

“The more they criticize Putin abroad and the more they fight with Russia, the greater his political weight grows,” said Mikhail Delyagin, an economic adviser to former Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Kasyanov and director of the Institute for Globalization Studies in Moscow, quoted in The Moscow Times.

Putin’s recent visit to Germany, where he received the Saxony’s Order of Gratitude medal in Dresden, has come under fire by some who believe that he isn’t deserving of acclaim after being directly responsible for turning off the heat to many people in Europe.

Werner Schulz, a former Dresden Green activist, described the move as “cynical and scandalous” in Der Spiegel magazine.

The Prime Minister, a former spy, served in Dresden as a KGB officer between 1985 and 1990.

The Russians have shown that they approve of his tough tactics. Putin’s approval rating was 83 percent in October and reached almost 90 percent in September after Russia trounced Georgia in a five-day war condemned by the EU and the United States.

The gas crisis broke out when Russia cut gas supplies to Ukraine’s domestic market on New Year’s day after the two ex-Soviet neighbors failed to settle a dispute about Kiev’s debts to Moscow and gas prices for 2009.

Russia later cut off all gas supplies to Europe which run through the Ukrainian pipeline after accusing Kiev of siphoning off the gas for themselves.

Roughly 80 percent of Russian gas exports to the EU pass through Ukraine.

Those involved in the deadlock are hoping for Germany, one of Moscow’s biggest gas partners, to take a tougher stance with the Russians.

The German Chancellor implored Putin to bring an end to the crisis, saying that it would be better for all the parties involved. “I believe there is a danger that Russia will lose a chunk of its credibility if there is a long interruption of gas deliveries,” Angela Merkel of Germany said.