Poland’s prime minister has lashed out at Russia for trying to “blackmail” his country with an abrupt cut-off of gas supplies, and accused the nation of taking revenge for new sanctions imposed by Warsaw this week.
Hours after sanctions were announced targeting 50 Russian oligarchs and companies — including energy giant Gazprom — Poland said it had received notice that Gazprom was cutting off supplies to Poland for failing to comply with new demands to pay in Russian rubles. Gazprom is also expected to shut off gas to Bulgaria.
Hungary and Austria said gas supplies were normal.
Speaking to the Polish parliament, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki vowed that Poland would not be cowed by the gas cut-off. He said Poland was safe thanks to years of efforts aimed at securing gas from other countries.
Lawmakers stood and applauded when he said that Russia’s “gas blackmail” would have no effect on his country.
While Poland is far more dependent on coal, with gas only accounting for nine per cent of the country’s overall energy use, Russia supplied about 45 per cent of the country’s gas.
Russian supplies to Poland were already due to end later this year and Poland had already made new plans. A new pipeline, The Baltic Pipe Project, is due to become operational in the fall.
Gas used as a political tool
Gazprom said it had halted gas supplies to Bulgaria as well, blaming a failure to pay in rubles.
But Bulgarian Energy Minister Alexander Nikolov said on Wednesday that the gas was still flowing for the time being, and that his country would be able to meet the needs of users for at least one month.
“Alternative supplies are available, and Bulgaria hopes that alternative routes and supplies will also be secured at the EU level,” Nikolov said, referring to an EU expert meeting due later Wednesday to plan the next steps.
“Obviously gas is used as a political tool. As long as I am minister, Bulgaria will not negotiate under pressure. Bulgaria is not for sale and does not succumb to any trade counterpart.”
Russia’s energy exports have largely continued since the war began, an exception to sanctions that have otherwise cut off Moscow from much of its trade with the West.
Attempt to shatter unity
Ukraine has accused Russia of blackmailing Europe over energy in an attempt to break its allies as fighting in Ukraine entered a third month. Buyers say Moscow’s demands for payment in rubles violates contracts, which call for payment in euros.
Andriy Yermak, chief of staff to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky, said Russia was “trying to shatter the unity of our allies.”
Bulgaria, which is almost completely reliant on Russian gas imports, said the proposed new payment scheme was in breach of its arrangement with Gazprom. It has held talks to import liquefied natural gas through neighbouring Turkey and Greece.
Russia makes gains in Eastern Ukraine
Since a Russian invasion force was driven back at the outskirts of Kyiv last month, Moscow has refocused its operation on Eastern Ukraine, starting a new offensive from several directions to fully capture two provinces known as the Donbas.
Ukraine’s General Staff acknowledged that Russia had made gains at a number of areas in the east, capturing outskirts of the towns of Velyka Komyshuvakha and Zavody on one front, and the Zarichne and Novoshtokivske settlements in Donetsk region.
It said an assault on Azovstal, a steelworks where Ukrainian defenders are holding out in the ruins of the port of Mariupol, was continuing.
In the south, Ukraine said it had attacked Snake Island, a Black Sea outpost seized by Russia early in the war when defenders became heroes to Ukrainians for rejecting a Russian demand to surrender with an obscenity.
Ukraine says Russia is trying to organize a fake referendum in Kherson, the only regional capital it has seized so far, to try to pry it from Ukraine.
Explosions reported in Moldova
There has also been increasing concern over the prospect of the conflict widening to neighbouring Moldova, where pro-Russian separatists in a small region occupied since the 1990s by Russian troops have reported several explosions in recent days.
The invasion of Ukraine has left thousands dead or injured, reduced towns and cities to rubble, and forced more than five million people to flee abroad.
Moscow calls its actions a “special operation” to disarm Ukraine and protect it from fascists. Ukraine and the West call this a pretext for an unprovoked war to seize territory.
The United States and its allies have increasingly been supplying Ukraine with heavy weapons for the fight in the east. More than 40 countries met at a U.S. air base in Germany on Tuesday to discuss Ukraine’s defence. Germany announced its first delivery of heavy weapons to Ukraine, including Gepard light tanks equipped with anti-aircraft guns.
Blasts were heard in the early hours of Wednesday in three Russian provinces bordering Ukraine, authorities said, and an ammunition depot in the Belgorod province caught fire. The regional governor said the blaze near Staraya Nelidovka village had been put out and no civilians had been hurt.
Russia this month accused Ukraine of attacking a fuel depot in Belgorod with helicopters and opening fire on several villages in the province. A massive fire also broke out this week at a fuel depot in nearby Bryansk. Ukraine does not confirm responsibility for reported incidents on Russian territory.
British military intelligence said Ukraine retained control over most of its airspace and Russia had failed to effectively destroy Ukraine’s air force or its air defences.
Ukrainian authorities on Tuesday dismantled a huge Soviet-era monument in the centre of Kyiv meant to symbolize friendship with Russia.
“We now see what this ‘friendship’ is — destruction of Ukrainian cities … killing tens of thousands of peaceful people,” Kyiv Mayor Vitaly Klitschko said.