Energy ministers from across the EU are holding emergency talks after Russia halted gas supplies to Bulgaria and Poland last week.
Officials gathered in Brussels yesterday as the “bloc strives for a united response” to Moscow’s demand that European countries “pay for Russian gas in rubles” amid biting sanctions – or “face their supply being cut off” too, Reuters reported.
Both Bulgaria and Poland had “already planned to stop using Russian gas this year and say they can cope with the stoppage”, the news agency continued. But the cut-off has “raised fears that other EU countries, including Europe’s gas-reliant economic powerhouse Germany, could be next”.
Subscribe to The Week
Escape your echo chamber. Get the facts behind the news, plus analysis from multiple perspectives.
Russia’s state-owned energy giant Gazprom is the EU’s biggest gas supplier, and Germany is the most dependent on this supply among the bloc’s most developed economies. According to latest data from the European Union Agency for the Cooperation of Energy Regulators (ACER), Russia supplies 49% of the gas imported by Germany.
Russian gas also accounts for almost half (46%) of Italy’s supply.
France also depends on Norwegian gas, which accounts for 35% of the national supply, compared with 24% from Russia. Nor is Spain “on the list of Russia’s major customers”, with Madrid instead relying heavily on gas from Algeria and the US, the data site reported.
But some smaller European countries are almost entirely reliant on Russian gas deliveries, including North Macedonia, Moldova and Bosnia and Herzegovina, ACER’s data shows.
Finland and Latvia also get more than 90% of their gas from Russia, while Serbia clocks in at 89%. Dependence is far lower in the Netherlands and Romania, at around 10%, while Ireland does not rely on Russian gas at all.
And Ukraine has not used Russian gas since 2015.
With a string of countries that depend on Russian supplies “facing gas payment deadlines later this month”, EU member states are pushing the bloc to “clarify whether companies can keep buying the fuel without breaching” Western sanctions against Moscow, Reuters reported.
As Russia is hit by a freeze on overseas cash reserves, Moscow has demanded that foreign buyers “deposit euros or dollars into an account at the privately owned Russian bank Gazprombank, which would convert them into roubles”.
The European Commission has warned member states that “complying with Russia's scheme could breach EU sanctions”, the news agency continued. But the commission muddied the waters by also “suggesting countries could make sanctions-compliant payments if they declare the payment complete once it has been made in euros and before its conversion”.
EU leaders appear split on “how soon” they could “wind down dependence on Russian energy supplies”, said the BBC’s business reporter Michael Race. As the threat of a Russian gas cut-off looms, member states are facing “two main challenges”.
The first is how to pay for Russian gas without breaching sanctions, while the longer-term challenge is “how to source and develop alternative supplies to move away from reliance on Russia”.
Countries including Germany have claimed they “would be able to weather a Russian oil ban by the end of 2022”, and appear to “back tougher sanctions” against Moscow, Race reported. But Hungary “opposes such a move” and “would not back measures that could endanger supplies”.
The war in Ukraine has left Europe at a “crossroads” over energy supplies, said France 24. And as the conflict continues, the question of whether “the continent can wean itself off Russian gas” remains unanswered.
In “shutting gas to Poland and Bulgaria”, Moscow “made an aggressive move that may draw yet more European sanctions”, said The Economist.
In a statement last week, European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said the EU’s response to the “provocation” would be “immediate, united and coordinated”.
But threatening gas supplies is “the most aggressive economic sanction Russia has imposed on the West to date”, said The Economist’s economics editor Henry Curr.
“There is an extent to which this is all part of a strategic game that is going on between Europe and Russia,” Curr argued. “Clearly, the Russians think there is some strategic advantage to be had here, and it could mean that more is coming.”
Continue reading for free
We hope you're enjoying The Week's refreshingly open-minded journalism.
Subscribed to The Week? Register your account with the same email as your subscription.