Russian energy company Gazprom warned authorities in Poland and Bulgaria on Tuesday that it would suspend gas supplies after Warsaw imposed new sanctions on individuals and companies in the country chaired by Vladimir Putin.
With the measure, which takes effect this Wednesday (27), the countries become the first to have the product’s supply cut by the main supplier in Europe since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24. The move indicates a tougher response by Moscow to Western sanctions – which the Russian president has already called “an escalation of the situation”.
Bulgaria and Poland are members of the European Union and NATO, the western military alliance.
The announcement of the suspension was given by Warsaw and Sofia, who said on Tuesday that their state-owned companies had received a warning about the cut. The Russian company, for its part, claimed in the Polish case that it was not disrupting supplies, but requiring the country to pay for the gas in accordance with the rules of its new “payment order” — no comment was made on Bulgaria.
The reference is to a recent Putin ruling that countries he classifies as “hostile” would have to open Gazprombank accounts to make payments for gas imports in euros or dollars, which would then be converted into rubles.
Only a few buyers, such as Hungary and Uniper, Germany’s main importer, said it was possible to pay for the product under the new rule without European sanctions being violated.
Bulgaria claims to have “fully fulfilled its obligations” and made the payments set out in the contract “in due course”. The Balkan country also denounced “the new two-stage payment procedure proposed by the Russian side”.
“It does not fit into the contract in force until the end of this year and presents significant risks for the Bulgarian side, such as making payments without receiving any gas deliveries from the Russian side.”
Both Sofia and Warsaw have contracts that expire at the end of this year and said on Tuesday that there will be no shortage of the product even in the event of a cut.
Poland’s contract with Gazprom is for 10.2 billion cubic meters per year, which covers about 50% of national consumption. The authorities declared that the country has 76% of its production capacity in storage and has alternative supply available. “From the first day of the war, we have declared that we are prepared for full independence from Russian raw materials,” climate minister Anna Moskwa wrote on Twitter.
The Polish state-owned gas company, which has already said it would not agree to the new ruble payment scheme or extend the agreement, said it would act to restore contracted supply and seek compensation for breaching established rules.
On the Bulgarian side, around 90% of the gas consumed is supplied by Russia. The government declared that it had taken “actions to find alternative agreements for supply” and assured that for the time being no restrictive measures on consumption are planned.
Also on Tuesday, Kiev reacted to the episode by accusing Moscow of blackmailing Europe. “Russia is trying to destroy the unity of our allies. It is also proving that energy sources are a weapon,” said Andrii Iermak, President Volodmyr Zelensky’s chief of staff.
“That’s why Europe needs to come together and impose an embargo on energy resources, depriving the Russians of these weapons.”
Tom Marzec-Manser, head of gas analysis at data intelligence firm ICIS, said the suspension would be “a seismic alert” triggered by Putin. “Poland has had an anti-Russian and anti-Gazprom stance for several years, which is not the case with Bulgaria. So seeing that Bulgaria will have cut [o fornecimento de gás] It’s also a great development in its own right.”
Neighboring Ukraine and the destination of many of the refugees from the war, Poland has shown itself to be one of Russia’s staunchest political opponents and is among the Europeans seeking tougher responses to the invasion.
Earlier on Tuesday, the government announced a list of 50 Russian oligarchs and companies, including Gazprom, who would be subject to sanctions under a law passed earlier this month allowing their assets to be frozen — the legislation is in addition to measures imposed by the EU.