Russia halted gas supplies to Bulgaria and Poland on Wednesday for rejecting its demand to pay 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 United States in ramping up arms shipments to help Ukraine fend off a new Russian assault in the east.
Ukraine reported on Wednesday that Russian troops had made gains in several villages there. Russia reported a number of blasts on its side of the border, including a blaze at an arms depot, which Kyiv called “karma”.
Moscow says the gas cut-off is to enforce its demand for payment in roubles, 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 GAZP.MM, the Russian gas export monopoly, said in a statement it had “completely suspended gas supplies to Bulgargaz and PGNiG PGN.WA due to absence of payments in roubles,” referring to the Polish and Bulgarian gas companies.
“Basic legal principles have been broken, violated,” Polish President Andrzej Duda said. “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 demanded last month that buyers from “unfriendly” countries pay for gas in roubles or be cut off. The European Union says this violates contracts that called for payment in euros.
Poland and Bulgaria are both former Soviet-era satellites of Moscow that have since joined the EU and NATO. Poland has been one of the Kremlin’s most vocal opponents of the war.