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Russia’s Gazprom cuts off gas to Poland, Bulgaria, escalating tensions with E.U.

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BRUSSELS — The European Union accused Russia on Wednesday of “blackmail” after a state-controlled gas company, Gazprom, said it had shut off the supply of natural gas to Poland and Bulgaria.

“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 in a statement. “This is unjustified and unacceptable.”

The move escalates the standoff between Moscow and the West over the war in Ukraine and could complicate a roiling EU debate about weaning the bloc off Russian energy.

Russia’s state-controlled gas company, Gazprom, shut off gas to Poland and Bulgaria on April 27. (Video: Reuters)

Russia cuts off gas to Poland, Bulgaria, stoking tensions with EU over Ukraine

This is the first supply disruption since Russian President Vladimir Putin said that “unfriendly countries” would have to pay for natural gas in rubles. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov dismissed charges of blackmail Wednesday while also warning of additional cutoffs if countries do not yield to Russia’s demands.

US officials moved quickly to reassure citizens. “There will be no shortage of gas in Polish homes,” Poland’s climate minister, Anna Moskwa, said on Twitter. Bulgaria’s government also said it has secured alternate gas supplies and vowed that there would be no domestic restrictions on consumption.

At a news conference in Brussels, von der Leyen confirmed that both Poland and Bulgaria were getting gas from other countries. The EU has made “contingency plans” for cutoffs, she said, and officials will meet soon to discuss additional plans.

Since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, the EU has worked with the United States and other allies to penalize Moscow, but member countries continue to buy Russian oil and gas. Baltic states and some other Eastern European countries have called for a total embargo. Others, notably Germany, have resisted, saying they need more time to line up alternative supplies.

The prospect of additional cutoffs could add momentum to EU plans.

Russia’s latest moves will only speed up the EU’s goal to “phase out” Russian energy, Eduard Heger, prime minister of Slovakia, tweeted Wednesday.

Norbert Röttgen, a lawmaker from Germany’s center-right Christian Democratic Union, said an oil and gas embargo is now a matter of “EU solidarity.”

There were already signs of movement. During a visit to Warsaw on Tuesday, German Economy Minister Robert Habeck said Berlin was days away from striking a deal that could enable it to find an alternative for the 12 percent of the country’s oil that still comes from Russia.

The potential deal between Germany and Poland would try to secure supplies to Germany’s Schwedt refinery, which is operated by Russia’s state-owned energy giant Rosneft, from Poland’s Plock pipeline.

Jens Suedekum, a professor of international economics at the Düsseldorf Institute for Competition Economics and an adviser to the German government, said the timing of Moscow’s move suggests it was in retaliation for the deal.

“Putin’s decision to cut off Poland from gas was, basically, a revenge act against the Plock pipeline deal,” Suedekum tweeted.

in to statement published Wednesday, Gazprom said it stopped supplying natural gas to Poland’s PGNiG gas company and Bulgaria’s Bulgargaz because they had not complied with an order to pay in Russian currency. The suspension starting Wednesday will last “until the payments are made” in rubles, Gazprom said.

PGNiG confirmed the cutoff, saying that its natural gas deliveries from Gazprom “have halted completely.”

If and how the cutoff will affect gas moving through Poland and Bulgaria to other EU countries was not clear. Gazprom said that if PGNiG or Bulgargaz were to siphon gas intended for third countries, the supplies for those countries “will be reduced by the volume that was offtaken.”

Ukrainian officials were quick to criticize Gazprom’s decision, saying the move was retaliation against the EU for its staunch backing of Kyiv — especially Poland, which has been particularly vocal in its support and has been a hub for arms and supplies flowing into Ukraine.

Andriy Yermak, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s chief of staff, said Russia has begun “gas blackmailing Europe.”

“We see the efforts to up the ante and disregard any rules and obligations, which is typical for Russians,” Yermak said in a post on Telegram. “Russia is trying to break the unity of our allies. … That is why the EU needs to be united and impose an embargo on energy resources, depriving Russians of their energy weapons.”

Officials and experts have long worried that the EU is too dependent on Moscow for energy. The two countries targeted Tuesday are especially vulnerable: Poland gets more than 45 percent of its natural gas from Russia and Bulgaria more than 70 percent, according to EU data.

The EU last month pledged to wean off Russian fossil fuels by 2030, starting by cutting gas imports by two-thirds by the end of this year.

On Tuesday, some analysts said Gazprom’s move could expedite the severing of ties. Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency, called it “yet another sign of Russia’s politicization of existing agreements,” and he predicted it would “only accelerate European efforts to move away from Russian energy supplies.”

Morris reported from Berlin and Pietsch from Seoul. Irynka Hromotska and Annabelle Chapman contributed to this report.

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