Pokrovsk, Ukraine (AFP) – Russia cut off natural gas from NATO members Poland and Bulgaria on Wednesday and threatened to do the same to other countries, using its most important exports in what was seen as an attempt to punish and divide the West. Ukraine support.
The move, condemned by European leaders as “blackmail,” marked a dramatic escalation in the economic war of sanctions and counter-sanctions that unfolded parallel to the battlefield fighting.
The tactic, which comes a day after the United States and other Western allies pledged to send more heavy weapons to Ukraine, could eventually force target countries to ration gas and could deal another blow to economies struggling with rising prices. At the same time, it could deprive Russia of much-needed income to fund its war effort.
Poland has been a major gateway for arms deliveries to Ukraine and this week confirmed it would send the country’s tanks. Just hours before Russian energy giant Gazprom moved in, Poland announced a new set of sanctions against the company, other Russian companies and oligarchs.
Bulgaria, under a new liberal government that took power last fall, severed many of its old ties with Moscow and similarly supported punitive measures against the Kremlin. It also hosted Western fighter jets at a new NATO site on Bulgaria’s Black Sea coast.
cut gas Don’t get the two countries in trouble right away. Poland, in particular, has been lining up other suppliers for many years, and the continent is heading into summer, making gas less important for households.
Also, shipments of Russian gas to both Poland and Bulgaria are expected to end later this year anyway.
However, cutting the embargo and the Kremlin’s warning that other countries may next time have caused concerns from the 27 European Union countries. Germany, the continent’s largest economy, and Italy are among the largest consumers of Russian natural gas in Europe, although they are also taking steps to reduce their dependence on Moscow.
“It is no surprise that the Kremlin is using fossil fuels to try to blackmail us,” said European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. Today, the Kremlin has failed yet again in its attempt to sow division among the member states. The era of Russian fossil fuels in Europe is coming to an end. ”
Gazprom She said she closed the two countries Because they refused to pay in rubles, as President Vladimir Putin demanded “unfriendly” countries. The Kremlin said other countries could be cut off if they did not agree to the payment arrangements.
Most European countries have publicly rejected Russia’s demand for the ruble, but it is not clear how many countries have actually faced the moment of the decision so far. For example, Greece’s next scheduled payment to Gazprom is due on May 25, and the government must then decide whether or not to comply.
Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki told his country’s parliament that he believes Poland’s support for Ukraine – and new sanctions imposed by Warsaw on Tuesday – are the real reasons behind the gas cut.
Bulgarian Prime Minister Kirill Petkov called the suspension decision blackmail, adding: “We will not succumb to such blackmail.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said that Russia views gas as a weapon of political blackmail and “sees a united Europe as a target”.
On the battlefield, fighting continued in the east of the country along a largely static front line some 300 miles (480 kilometers) long.
Russia claimed that its missiles hit a batch of weapons delivered to Ukraine by the United States and European countries. One person was killed and at least two injured when rockets hit a residential neighborhood in Kharkiv.
Western officials, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss intelligence findings, said Russia has made slow progress in the Donbass region, with “minor gains,” including capturing villages and small towns south of Izyum and the outskirts of Rubijn.
Serhiy Hayday, governor of the Luhansk region, admitted that Russia had made little progress in its advance on Robyzhny by its almost constant bombardment, but that the Ukrainian forces resisted and retreated only when there was nothing left to defend.
“There is no point in staying in an area that has come under fire so often that every meter of it is well known,” he said.
Western officials said some Russian troops have been moved from the devastated southern port city of Mariupol to other parts of Donbass. But some remained in Mariupol to fight the Ukrainian forces holed up in the Azovstal steel mill, the city’s last stronghold. About 1,000 civilians were said to have taken refuge there, along with an estimated 2,000 Ukrainian gunners.
“The situation is very difficult. Serhiy Volynsky, commander of the naval unit inside the plant, said in a video message on Facebook, that there are big problems with water and food. He said that hundreds of fighters and civilians were injured and needed medical help, and those inside were children, the elderly and people with special needs.
On the other side of the border in Russia, the governor said, an ammunition depot in the Belgorod region was burned after several explosions were heard. Explosions were also reported in Russia’s Kursk region near the border, and authorities in Russia’s Voronezh region said an air defense system had shot down a drone.
Earlier this week, a fire broke out at an oil storage facility in the Russian city of Bryansk.
Ukraine’s presidential adviser, Mykhailo Podolak, alluded to the country’s involvement in the fires, saying in a Telegram post that “karma (is) a cruel thing”.
In other developments:
– The head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, Rafael Grossi, said that the level of safety at the largest nuclear plant in Europe, now under Russian occupation in Ukraine, is like a “flashing red light” as his organization tries in vain to reach the Zaporizhzhia power plant for repairs.
Amid rising tensions over gas, Moscow and Washington staged a dramatic prisoner swap, exchanging a war veteran imprisoned in Moscow with a convicted Russian drug smuggler serving a long prison sentence in the United States.
With With the help of western weaponsUkrainian forces managed to do this The attempt of Russian forces to storm Kyiv was thwarted. Moscow now says its focus is on capturing Donbass, Ukraine’s Russian-speaking industrial heartland.
A defiant Putin pledged that Russia would achieve its military goals, telling parliament, “All the tasks of the special military operation that we are conducting in Donbas and Ukraine, which began on February 24, will be fulfilled unconditionally.”
Simon Tagliabitra, senior fellow at Bruegel think-tank in Brussels, said Russia’s goal in stemming the flow of gas is “divide and rule” — setting European countries against each other as they search for energy.
While Poland gets about 45% of its gas needs from Russia, it relies heavily on coal and has said it is well prepared for the cut. Analyst Emily MacLean of Rystad Energy said it has a large stockpile of gas and will soon benefit from two pipelines.
Bulgaria gets more than 90% of its gas from Russia, but it may increase imports from Azerbaijan, and the pipeline to Greece is due to be completed later this year.
Dobrin Todorov, a resident of the Bulgarian capital Sofia, said the suspension was not a big deal.
“In the end, the choice is between freedom and dignity or gas, the answer is clear, in favor of freedom and dignity,” Todorov said, adding that the gas shortage “cannot be compared to the difficulties and tribulations that the Ukrainian people are currently experiencing.” . “
Europe is not without its own influence, as it pays about $400 million per day to Russia for gas, money that Putin would lose in the event of a complete cut. Russia could, in theory, sell the oil elsewhere – to India and China, for example. But it does not have the necessary pipelines in some cases, and has only a limited ability to export gas by ship.
“The move Russia has taken today is basically one in which Russia is hurting itself,” von der Leyen said.
Gambrell reported from Lviv, Ukraine, and Gera reported from Warsaw, Poland. Associated Press journalists Jill Lawless in London, Juras Karmanau in Lviv, David Keaton in Kyiv, Alexander Stashevsky in Chernobyl, Mstislav Chernov in Kharkiv, and AP staff around the world contributed to this report.
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