Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that he had signed a decree saying foreign buyers must pay in rubles for Russian gas from April 1, and contracts would be halted if these payments were not made.
“In order to purchase Russian natural gas, they must open ruble accounts in Russian banks. It is from these accounts that payments will be made for gas delivered starting from tomorrow,” Putin said.
“If such payments are not made, we will consider this a default on the part of buyers, with all the ensuing consequences. Nobody sells us anything for free, and we are not going to do charity either — that is, existing contracts will be stopped.”
Germany and France moved swiftly to reject the demand, dubbing it an unacceptable breach of contracts, adding that the maneuver amounted to "blackmail."
Speaking during a news conference, the German Economy Minister Robert Habeck said he had not yet seen a new degree signed by Putin mandating gas payments in rubles, adding that Germany was prepared for all scenarios, including a stoppage of Russian gas flows to Europe.
French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said France and Germany rejected Russia's demand and are preparing for a cut in Russian gas deliveries.
"There could be a situation tomorrow in which ... there is no longer any Russian gas. It's up to us to prepare for these scenarios and we are preparing," said Bruno Le Maire following talks in Berlin with Habeck.
Under Putin's new plan, a foreign buyer is now obliged to transfer foreign currency to one special, so called "K", account. Gazprombank would then buy rubles on behalf of the gas buyer to transfer rubles to another special "K" account, the order said.
Gazprombank would then transfer ruble funds from a 'K' type account of the foreign gas buyer to Gazprom's ruble accounts, the order said. Gazprombank can open such accounts without a presence of a foreign buyer's representative.
Putin also said flights should be more affordable for Russians and that the share of Russian-made aircraft should increase significantly.
Aviation was an early business casualty as the West and Russia imposed tit-for-tat airspace bans in the wake of Russia sending tens of thousands of troops into Ukraine last month.