The European Union (EU) is mapping out a coordinated response to Russia's halting of gas deliveries to Poland and Bulgaria, which the bloc sees as another attempt to use gas as an instrument of blackmail, President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen said in a statement Wednesday.
Russian energy company Gazprom announced on Wednesday that it had suspended gas deliveries to Bulgaria and Poland due to their refusal to pay for gas imports in rubles.
'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. This is unjustified and unacceptable and it shows once again the unreliability of Russia as a gas supplier,' von der Leyen was quoted in the European Commission's statement.
She said the EU is prepared for this scenario, is in close contact with all Member States to secure alternative flows and is mapping out a coordinated EU response.
'We have been working to ensure alternative deliveries and the best possible storage levels across the EU. Member States have put in place contingency plans for just such a scenario and we worked with them in coordination and solidarity,' von der Leyen said, adding that a meeting of the gas coordination group is taking place right now.
On March 31, Russian President Vladimir Putin said 'unfriendly countries' must now pay for gas supplies in rubles after the EU and the US froze Russian Central Bank currency assets over the Ukraine war, which began on Feb. 24.
Putin said that by freezing Russia's assets in dollars and euros, the West had effectively seized payments for fuel deliveries and taken them for free. He also said that as new payments could be frozen as well, Russia cannot take the risk of continuing trade in euros and dollars.
Under Putin’s order, Western countries have to open accounts in rubles in Russian banks to pay for gas.
Von der Leyen said 'Europeans can trust that we stand united and in full solidarity with the Member States impacted in the face of this new challenge. Europeans can count on our full support.”
Gazprom warned in a statement Wednesday that if gas bound for third counties diverts for Bulgaria or Poland, both transit countries, these supplies would be cut by an equivalent volume.
Fatih Birol, head of the International Energy Agency, tweeted that Gazprom unilaterally cutting gas supplies to Bulgaria and Poland today makes it clearer than ever that Europe needs to move quickly to reduce its reliance on Russian energy.
'IEA strongly supports Poland and Bulgaria as they respond to this latest weaponization of energy supplies,' he wrote.
By Nuran Erkul Kaya