“The announcement by Gazprom that it is unilaterally suspending gas deliveries to European customers is yet another attempt by Russia to use gas as a tool of blackmail,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement. “This is completely unjustified and unacceptable.”
This is the first supply disruption since Russian President Vladimir Putin declared that “unfriendly countries” would have to pay in rubles for natural gas. Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin’s spokesman, dismissed the allegations of blackmail on Wednesday, while also threatening additional cutoffs if countries do not comply with Russia’s demands.
Officials from the European Union moved quickly to reassure citizens. “There will be no shortage of gas in Polish homes,” said Anna Moskwa, Poland’s climate minister, on Twitter. Bulgaria’s government also stated that it has secured alternative gas supplies and that there will be no domestic consumption restrictions.
Von der Leyen confirmed at a press conference in Brussels that Poland and Bulgaria were receiving gas from other countries. She stated that the EU has made “contingency plans” for cutoffs and that officials will meet soon to discuss additional plans.
Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the EU has worked with the US and other allies to sanction Moscow, but member countries continue to purchase Russian oil and gas. The Baltic states and a few other Eastern European countries have demanded a complete embargo. Others, most notably Germany, have resisted, claiming that they require more time to secure alternative supplies.
The prospect of additional cutoffs could give the EU’s plans a boost.
Russia’s latest moves will only hasten the European Union’s goal of “phasing out” Russian energy, Slovakian Prime Minister Eduard Heger tweeted on Wednesday.
An oil and gas embargo, according to Norbert Röttgen, a lawmaker from Germany’s center-right Christian Democratic Union, is now a matter of “EU solidarity.”
There were already signs of activity. During a visit to Warsaw on Tuesday, German Economy Minister Robert Habeck said Berlin was just days away from reaching an agreement that would allow it to find a replacement for the 12 percent of the country’s oil that is still supplied by Russia.
The potential agreement between Germany and Poland would seek to secure supplies from Poland’s Plock pipeline to Germany’s Schwedt refinery, which is operated by Russia’s state-owned energy giant Rosneft.
Jens Suedekum, a professor of international economics at the Düsseldorf Institute for Competition Economics and a German government adviser, believes Moscow’s move was in retaliation for the agreement.
“Putin’s decision to cut Poland off from gas was essentially a retaliation for the Plock pipeline deal,” Suedekum tweeted.
Gazprom said in a statement released on Wednesday that it had stopped supplying natural gas to Poland’s PGNiG gas company and Bulgaria’s Bulgargaz because they had failed to comply with an order to pay in Russian currency. The suspension, which began on Wednesday, will last “until the payments are made” in rubles, according to Gazprom.
PGNiG confirmed the cutoff, stating that natural gas deliveries from Gazprom had “completely ceased.”
It was unclear whether and how the cutoff would affect gas transiting through Poland and Bulgaria to other EU countries. According to Gazprom, if PGNiG or Bulgargaz siphon gas intended for third countries, supplies to those countries will be “reduced by the volume that was offtaken.”
Ukrainian officials slammed Gazprom’s decision, claiming it was retaliation for the EU’s staunch support for Kyiv, particularly Poland, which has been particularly vocal in its support and has served as a hub for arms and supplies flowing into Ukraine.
According to Andriy Yermak, chief of staff to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Russia has begun “gas blackmailing Europe.”
“We see efforts to up the ante and disregard any rules and obligations, which is typical of Russians,” Yermak wrote in a Telegram post. “Russia is attempting to sever our allies’ unity….” That is why the European Union must band together and impose an embargo on energy resources, depriving Russia of its energy weapons.”
Officials and experts have long expressed concern that the EU is overly reliant on Moscow for energy. Tuesday’s target countries are particularly vulnerable: According to E.U. data, Poland receives more than 45 percent of its natural gas from Russia, while Bulgaria receives more than 70 percent.
Last month, the EU pledged to wean itself off Russian fossil fuels by 2030, beginning by cutting gas imports by two-thirds by the end of this year.
Some analysts speculated on Tuesday that Gazprom’s move could hasten the breakup. The International Energy Agency’s executive director, Fatih Birol, called it “yet another sign of Russia’s politicization of existing agreements,” and predicted that it would “only accelerate European efforts to move away from Russian energy supplies.”