WARSAW, SOFIA, KYIV: Russia halted gas supplies to Bulgaria and Poland on Wednesday for rejecting its demand for payment in roubles, taking direct aim at European economies in its toughest retaliation so far against international sanctions over the war in Ukraine.
The step was denounced by European leaders as “blackmail,” and comes as European countries have joined the US in ramping up arms shipments to help Ukraine fend off a new Russian assault in the east.
Moscow says the gas cut-off is to enforce its demand for payment in rubles, needed to shield its economy from sanctions. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov said Russia was a reliable energy supplier and denied it was engaging in blackmail.
Gazprom, the Russian gas export monopoly, said in a statement it had “completely suspended gas supplies to Bulgargaz and PGNiG due to absence of payments in rubles,” referring to the Polish and Bulgarian gas companies.
Polish President Andrzej Duda said the move violated “basic legal principles.”
“Appropriate legal steps will be taken and there will be appropriate compensation from Gazprom for violations of the provisions of the contract.”
Bulgarian Energy Minister Alexander Nikolov said: “It is clear that at the moment the natural gas is being used more as a political and economic weapon in the current war.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin issued a decree last month ordering Gazprom to cut off buyers from “unfriendly” countries that fail to pay in rubles. The EU says contracts call for payment in euros.
“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,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said. “This is unjustified and unacceptable.”