EU hits back at Russia’s halting of gas supplies

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has branded Russian’s state-backed gas company Gazprom’s announcement that it has halted supplies to Poland and Bulgaria as “unjustified and unacceptable”.

She added that the EU was working on a coordinated response to the escalation by Moscow.

Gazprom announced on 27 April that it had halted gas supplies to Poland and Bulgaria for failing to pay for gas in roubles, Moscow’s toughest response yet to sanctions imposed by the West over the conflict in Ukraine.

Russia’s president Vladimir Putin decreed in March that Gazprom gas exported to so-called unfriendly countries, which include the EU, be sold only for roubles as of April, according to a scheme established between Gazprom, Gazprombank, Russia’s central bank and the government.

“The announcement by Gazprom that it is unilaterally stopping delivery of gas to customers in Europe is yet another attempt by Russia to use gas as an instrument of blackmail,” von der Leyen said in a statement.

“This is unjustified and unacceptable. And it shows once again the unreliability of Russia as a gas supplier,” she said.

Von der Leyen said the EU was prepared for this scenario, and would continue its work to ensure alternative supplies of gas and ensure gas storage is filled. EU rules require all countries to have a contingency plan to cope with a gas supply shock.

Von der Leyen said the EU was working on a coordinated response to Russia’s escalation, and its “gas coordination group” of representatives from national governments and the gas industry was meeting on Wednesday morning.

Poland’s climate ministry said earlier in the week its energy supplies were secure and there was no need to limit supply to consumers.

The Commission has said companies should continue to pay the currency agreed in their contracts with Gazprom – 97% of which are in euros or dollars – and that paying in roubles could breach the EU’s sanctions against Russia over its invasion of Ukraine.

EU countries are negotiating emergency rules that would require them to fill storage 80% by November this year, to form a supply buffer in time for winter, when gas heating demand peaks.

“The announcement by Gazprom that it is unilaterally stopping delivery of gas to customers in Europe is yet another attempt by Russia to use gas as an instrument of blackmail.”

Ursula von der Leyen, European Commission

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