Sergei Kupryanov, quoted by the RIA-Novosti news agency, said on Tuesday: "Our warnings and demands that the Ukrainian side limit their consumption to the amount specified in the contracts and the Ukrainian side's announcement that it would be done shortly so far led to the contrary.

"Withholding gas in Ukraine has only increased over the past 24 hours."

Ukraine's government ordered a cut in the use of gas on Tuesday as a cold snap sent consumption in this key transit country for Russian gas to record levels, leaving several European countries short of supplies.

Ivan Plachkov, Ukraine's energy and fuel minister, said late on Tuesday: "The situation now is very complicated. Ukraine indeed uses more gas now than foreseen by preliminary agreements with our Russian partners, but there are objective reasons for this - very low temperatures."

Like Russia, Ukraine has been gripped by a severe cold snap for a week, which has left at least 77 people dead, including 26 during the past 24 hours.

The plunging temperatures have also reached Europe, which receives about 25% of its gas from Russia, and a handful of countries, including Italy, Romania, Poland and Bosnia, have recorded a drop in supplies from Moscow over the past several days.