Russia’s Gazprom halts gas supplies to Poland and Bulgaria in what Ukraine condemns as ‘gas blackmail’

SOFIA/WARSAW (REUTERS, AFP) – Russian vitality big Gazprom on Wednesday (April 27) halted gas supplies to Poland and Bulgaria for failing to pay for gas in roubles, the Kremlin’s hardest response but to the crippling sanctions imposed by the West for the invasion of Ukraine.

Poland and Bulgaria are the primary international locations to have their gas reduce off by Europe’s important provider for the reason that Feb 24 invasion of Ukraine that has killed 1000’s of individuals, displaced hundreds of thousands extra and raised fears of a broader battle.

“Gazprom has completely suspended gas supplies to Bulgargaz (Bulgaria) and PGNiG (Poland) due to absence of payments in roubles,” Gazprom mentioned in an announcement.

Warsaw and Sofia mentioned the halt to supplies was a breach of contract by Gazprom, the world’s greatest pure gas firm.

Gazprom, which supplies round 40 per cent of European gas, additionally warned that transit by way of Poland and Bulgaria – which host pipelines supplying Germany, Hungary and Serbia – can be reduce if gas was siphoned off illegally.

Russian President Vladimir Putin’s demand for rouble funds for gas is the centrepiece of Russia’s response to the West’s sanctions which embody the freezing of a whole lot of billions of {dollars} of Russian property.

Mr Putin casts the sanctions as an act of financial struggle however slicing off supplies to Poland and Bulgaria is considered one of Moscow’s most vital steps in the gas market for the reason that Soviets constructed gas pipelines to Europe from Siberia in the early Seventies.

Despite objections from the United States that Europe’s greatest economies have been making themselves too depending on Soviet – and then Russian – gas, Moscow hunted for 5 many years to solid itself as a dependable vitality provider for Germany’s financial system.

In the previous 15 years, Russia and Ukraine have bickered over pricing ensuing in disruptions to provide. In the winter of 2008/2009, Russian provide disruptions rippled throughout Europe.

Moscow additionally reduce off supplies to Kyiv in 2014 after Russia annexed Crimea.

Ukraine struggle

The struggle in Ukraine has modified assumptions about Europe’s post-Cold War relationship with Russia – together with over oil and gas supplies.

Mr Putin demanded that “unfriendly” international locations agree to a scheme beneath which they’d open accounts at Gazprombank and make funds for Russian gas imports in euros or {dollars} that will be transformed into roubles. Most European corporations had initially rejected the rouble fee scheme.

Only just a few Russian gas patrons, such as Hungary and Germany’s Uniper, the nation’s important importer of Russian gas, have mentioned it might be attainable to pay for future supplies beneath the scheme introduced by Moscow with out breaching European Union sanctions.

The Kremlin mentioned on Tuesday Gazprom was implementing Mr Putin’s decree on imposing fee for gas supplies in roubles.

“Payments for gas supplied from April 1 must be made in roubles using the new payments details, about which the counterparties were informed in a timely manner,” Gazprom mentioned.

In an indication that Gazprom’s halt to provide may quickly be expanded to different international locations, one of many Kremlin’s most loyal lawmakers lauded the transfer and mentioned different unfriendly international locations must be reduce off too.

“The same should be done with regard to other countries that are unfriendly to us,” mentioned Mr Vyacheslav Volodin, the Speaker of Russia’s Lower House of Parliament, the Duma.

Mr Volodin mentioned the leaders of the West would have to clarify to their very own residents why their vitality payments have been hovering due to sanctions on Russia.

The EU mentioned on Wednesday it was “prepared” for Moscow to droop gas supplies to the 27-nation bloc and is planning a “coordinated” response.

“Gazprom’s announcement is another attempt by Russia to blackmail us with gas. We are prepared for this scenario. We are mapping out our coordinated EU response,” European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen mentioned on Twitter.

“Europeans can trust that we stand united and in solidarity with the member states impacted.”

Ms Von der Leyen added that “a meeting of the gas coordination group is taking place right now” and slammed the unilateral transfer by Russia as “unjustified and unacceptable”.

European provide

Poland, for hundreds of years a rival of Moscow, has repeatedly mentioned it is not going to pay for Russian gas in roubles and has deliberate not to prolong its gas contract with Gazprom after it expires in the top of this yr.

Warsaw has additionally mentioned it had sufficient different sources of gas, together with seaborne liquefied pure gas.

There are few speedy alternate options.

Poland’s gas provide contract with Gazprom is for 10.2 billion cubic meters (bcm) per yr, and covers about 50 per cent of nationwide consumption.

Bulgaria, the place annual gas consumption is about 3 bcm, has sealed a deal to obtain 1 bcm of Azeri gas however can solely absolutely faucet the contract after a brand new gas pipeline with Greece turns into operational later this yr.

Bulgaria, closely reliant on Russian gas, has additionally mentioned it might not maintain talks with Gazprom to renew its pure gas buy deal, which additionally runs till the top of the yr.

The Yamal-Europe pipeline throughout Poland supplies Russian gas to Germany, though it has principally been working in a reverse mode this yr, supplying gas eastward from Germany. Bulgaria is a transit nation for gas supplies to Serbia and Hungary.

Bulgaria Energy Minister Alexander Nikolov mentioned the nation had paid for Russian gas deliveries for April and halting gas supplies can be a breach of its present contract with Gazprom.

“Because all trade and legal obligations are being observed, it is clear that at the moment the natural gas is being used more as a political and economic weapon in the current war,” Mr Nikolov mentioned.

The benchmark Dutch front-month gas contract on the TTF hub jumped by greater than 19 per cent on the day on Wednesday morning to €117 (S$172) per megawatt hour.

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