Gazprom logo is seen at the Expoforum Convention and Exhibition Centre in Saint Petersburg. AFP
Russia opened a new front in its war in Ukraine on Wednesday, cutting two European Union nations that staunchly back Kyiv off from its gas, a dramatic escalation in the conflict that is increasingly becoming a wider battle with the West.
One day after the United States and other Western allies vowed to speed more and better military supplies to Ukraine, the Kremlin upped the ante, using its most essential export as leverage. European gas prices shot up on the news, which European leaders denounced as “blackmail.”
Putin, Guterres agree on key Ukraine evacuation
Ukraine says several villages in east captured by Russian forces
In a memo, state-controlled Russian giant Gazprom said it was cutting Poland and Bulgaria off from its natural gas because they refused to pay in Russian rubles, as President Vladimir Putin had demanded. The company said it had not received any such payment since the beginning of the month.
This photo shows gas burning on a domestic hob. File/AFP
The gas cuts do not immediately put the countries into dire trouble since they have worked on getting alternative sources for several years now and the continent is heading into summer, making gas not as essential for households.
Still, it sent shivers of worry through the 27-nation European Union, which immediately convened a special coordination group to limit the impact of the move.
On the ground too, the geopolitical fight intensified, with the Russian military claiming Wednesday that its missiles hit a batch of weapons that the U.S. and European nations delivered to Ukraine.
A day earlier, explosions rocked the separatist region of Trans-Dniester in neighboring Moldova, knocking out two powerful radio antennas and raising fears the war could spill over Ukraine’s borders. No one claimed responsibility for the attacks — the second in as many days — but Ukraine all but blamed Russia.
And a Russian missile hit a strategic railroad bridge linking Ukraine’s Odesa port region to neighboring Romania, a NATO member, Ukrainian authorities said.
The logo of Russia’s energy giant Gazprom is pictured at one of its petrol stations in Moscow. AFP
Just across the border in Russia, an ammunition depot in the Belgorod region was burning early on Wednesday after several explosions were heard, the governor, Vyacheslav Gladkov, said on the messaging app Telegram.
Gazprom’s decision to cut gas to two European countries was another dark turn in the war, which has revived the geopolitical rifts of the Cold War, and it had an immediate impact. European gas prices spiked 25%, with benchmark Dutch futures jumping from around 100 euros per megawatt hour to around 125 euros.
Fatih Birol, the executive director of the Paris-based International Energy Agency, called the move a “weaponization of energy supplies” in a tweet.
“Gazprom’s move to completely shut off gas supplies to Poland is yet another sign of Russia’s politicization of existing agreements & will only accelerate European efforts to move away from Russian energy supplies,” he wrote.