Polish and Bulgarian officials said Tuesday that Moscow is cutting off natural gas deliveries to their countries due to their refusal to pay in Russian rubles, a demand made by President Vladimir Putin after sanctions were levied against his nation over the invasion of Ukraine.
Russian state-owned energy giant Gazprom informed the two EU and NATO member nations that gas supplies will be suspended starting Wednesday, their governments said.
The suspensions would be the first since Putin’s announcement last month that “unfriendly foreign buyers” would have to transact with Gazprom in rubles instead of dollars and euros. Only Hungary has agreed to do so, with other countries rejecting the demand as an unacceptable, one-sided breach of contracts and a violation of sanctions.
The move will be a grave concern to those countries who are the most heavily dependent on Russian gas, such as Germany, but at a hastily arranged press conference, Polish ministers said they had sufficient supplies to weather an interruption while accusing Gazprom of a breach of contract.
Anna Moskwa, Poland’s minister for climate, said: “There are no worries about shortages of gas in our homes. It is worth pointing out that liquified natural gas alone supplies the market sufficiently. LNG deliveries in [terminal] Świnoujście are growing – in 2015 there was one, in 2021 it was already 35. As of today, it provides for about 50 deliveries.”
She added: “Appropriate diversification strategies that we have introduced allow us to feel on the safe side in this situation.”
PGNiG, Poland’s largest gas supplier, said it would file a breach of contract lawsuit over Gazprom’s decision.
Russia currently supplies about 55% of Poland’s annual demand of about 21bn cubic metres (bcm) of gas but the country’s government has still been pushing the EU and other western allies to go further in punishing the Kremlin.
Later on Tuesday, Bulgaria’s energy ministry said it had been told that supplies of Russian gas via the TurkStream pipeline would also cease on Wednesday. Once a close ally of Moscow, Bulgaria has cut many of its ties with Russia, supporting sanctions against Russia and providing humanitarian aid to Ukraine.
Kiril Petkov, the country’s prime minister, and members of his coalition government were due to travel to Kyiv on Wednesday for aid talks with Ukrainian officials.
The Balkan country meets more than 90% of its gas needs with Russian imports, but the government insisted that no restrictions would be imposed on domestic gas consumption would be imposed for.
The NGO Europe Beyond Coal has calculated that the EU has sent more than €41bn (£34.7bn) to Russia in payments for fossil fuels since it invaded Ukraine two months ago.
Poland has been a strong supporter of neighboring Ukraine during the Russian invasion and has acted as a transit point for weapons the United States and other Western nations have provided to Kyiv.
Warsaw said this week that it, too, was sending weaponry to Ukraine’s army, in the form of tanks. On Tuesday it announced sanctions targeting 50 Russian oligarchs and companies, including Gazprom.
Bulgaria, once one of Moscow’s closest allies, has cut many of its ties with Russia after a new, liberal government took the reins last fall and also in the wake of the invasion. It has supported sanctions against Russia and sent humanitarian aid to Ukraine.
Bulgaria has been hesitant to provide military aid, but Prime Minister Kiril Petkov and members of his coalition government were expected in Kyiv on Wednesday for talks about further assistance.
Europe buys large amounts of Russian natural gas for residential heating, electrical generation and the fuel industry, with Germany particularly dependent on it. The imports have continued despite the war.
Around 60% of imports are paid in euros, and the rest in dollars. Putin’s demand was apparently intended to help bolster the Russian currency against Western sanctions.
In Washington, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said the U.S. had been preparing for such a cutoff by Russia.
“Some of that has been asking some countries in Asia who have excess supply to provide that to Europe,” Psaki said. “We’ve done that in some cases, and it’s been an ongoing effort.”
Poland was already planning to stop importing Russian gas by the end of the year, when its long-term supply contract with Gazprom expires.
PGNiG said its underground gas storage was almost 80% full and, with summer approaching, demand was lower.
Poland also has alternative supply sources, including a liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal in Swinoujscie.
On 1 May, a new gas pipeline connection with Lithuania is also due to open that will give Poland access to gas from Lithuania's LNG terminal.
And a new pipeline delivering gas from Norway, known as the "Baltic Pipe", comes online in October. It should reach full capacity by the end of the year and could replace all Russian deliveries.