Russia cuts gas to 2 NATO countries; Europe criticizes 'blackmail'
Russia on Wednesday cut off the natural gas supply to two North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) countries, Bulgaria and Poland. The move comes amid growing support toward Ukraine, a country Russia has waged war with. Russia's state energy giant Gazprom said the decision was taken as both the countries—which are part of the European Union (EU)—refused to pay in Russian currency rubles.
- The move could force targeted countries to ration gas and further hurt economies.
- Russia has threatened to cut off natural gas supplies to other countries, too.
- The move is being viewed as a retaliation for the sanctions imposed by western countries against Moscow over its offensive on Ukraine.
- Russian President Vladimir Putin had announced in March that Russia will only accept payments in rubles.
Cutting off the natural gas supply marks a further escalation as Russia faces sanctions and imposes some of its own on other countries amid its invasion of Ukraine. Bulgaria and Poland could be forced to ration gas, which could further worsen economic crises amid already rising prices. Separately, Russia could also end up without badly needed income to continue its war.
On Wednesday, the United States and other western countries vowed to step up weapons aid to Ukraine. As Ukraine's neighbor, Poland is key for the delivery of such weapons, particularly heavier ones, like tanks. Further, Poland had announced fresh sanctions against Gazprom along with Russian businesses and oligarchs mere hours before Russia decided to cut the former's gas supply.
The "real" reason behind Russia's move to cut off gas was Poland's support for Ukraine and the fresh sanctions, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki surmised while addressing his country's parliament on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, Bulgarian PM Kiril Petkov called the move an attempt of "blackmailing," saying his government will not succumb to such a threat. Bulgaria used to have close ties with Russia, but that has changed since a liberal government took over last year. Bulgaria even hosted western fighter jets at a new NATO outpost on its Black Sea coast and backed punitive measures targeting Russia.
There will be no immediate effect of the gas cut on Poland and Bulgaria as they will receive gas from their EU neighbors. Moreover, Poland has also been working for many years to attract other suppliers of natural gas to tackle any crisis. Furthermore, Russia's gas supplies to both countries were anyway about to stop later this year.
Meanwhile, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen lashed out at Moscow over the move, saying it shows how "the Kremlin uses fossil fuels to try to blackmail" the EU. "Today, the Kremlin failed once again in his attempt to sow division amongst member states," she said. She added that the era of Russian fossil fuel in Europe is nearing its end soon.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said Russia uses gas as a weapon for political blackmailing. Russia views "united Europe as a target," Zekenskyy further added. His comments came as the war—which has now entered the third month—still continued aggressively in the country's east.