While entirely predictable, Russia's move to cut off huge amounts of natural gas it sends to Ukraine nonetheless is troubling because it further inflames the tensions between those two nations and could have much broader implications, especially in Europe.
The curtailment announcement was painful enough to Ukraine because it is a heavily industrialized nation whose major industries depend on natural gas. But the situation worsened Monday when Ukrainian Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk cryptically announced that Russia also has halted the importation of Ukraine's agricultural products. Russia is one of the major markets for Ukrainian agriculture.
Yatsenyuk said the moves are designed to "destroy Ukraine." It certainly seems that way to us.
Ukraine already is rife with internal discord that essentially has pitted those with pro-Russian loyalties -- mostly in the eastern portion of the country -- against those who have favored looking to the West in the hope that doing so can make their country become a more independent, sovereign nation.
Russia long has used a heavy hand to influence events in Ukraine since it left the Soviet Union more than two decades ago. It twice before has cut off natural gas supplies, and it did so during the harsh winter months, meaning that residents of Ukraine felt consequences directly because the energy supply for heating was restricted.
The effects of the shut-off likely will be felt throughout Europe because Ukrainian pipelines are a crucial link between Europe and Russia, with about 15 percent of the continent's natural gas flowing through Ukrainian territory.
For its part in the natural gas issue, Russia couches its action as more of a business dispute than a geopolitical one.
But that is disingenuous.
Russia was fine with Ukraine's paying $269 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas as long as the Kremlin-friendly (a euphemism for political puppet) Victor Yanukovych was the president in Ukraine.
But since extensive protests in the streets of Kiev forced the clearly corrupt Yanukovych to flee the country last February, Russia has retaliated on a number of fronts.
It moved to annex the Crimean Peninsula, conducted extensive military exercises along the border, has sown the seeds of unrest in other areas of eastern Ukraine and then wanted to charge Ukraine $485 per 1,000 cubic meters of gas as well as strangle its agricultural export market.
Ukraine strenuously objected to the price increase, which would be the highest paid in Europe by quite a margin. The Russians have come down to $385 per 1,000 cubic meters, but the deal still contained provisions that would allow Russia to impose price hikes if the Ukrainian government does anything that displeases the Kremlin.
That sounds to us much more like geopolitical extortion than a business deal.