Russia cuts gas to Poland and Bulgaria

POKROVSK, Ukraine — Russia on Wednesday opened a new front in its war in Ukraine, cutting off NATO members Poland and Bulgaria from its gas, a dramatic escalation in the conflict that is increasingly turning into a broader struggle with the West.

A day after the United States and other Western allies pledged to expedite shipments of more and better military supplies to Ukraine, the Kremlin has upped the ante, using its key exports as leverage. He then went further, warning that Russia could cut gas supplies to other European customers.

Gas prices in Europe rose on news of Poland and Bulgaria’s isolation, a move European leaders denounced as “blackmail”.

In a memo, state-controlled Russian giant Gazprom said it was shutting off natural gas from Poland and Bulgaria because they refused to pay in Russian rubles as requested by President Vladimir Putin. The company said it has not received any such payment since the beginning of the month.

The gas cuts won’t get countries into trouble right away, as they’ve been working to find alternative sources for several years and the continent heads into summer, making gas less important to households.

Still, it sparked tremors of concern among the 27-strong European Union, which immediately convened a special coordination group to limit the impact of the decision. And the subsequent warning from Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov is likely to worry them even more. He told reporters that other European customers could be cut off if they also refused to pay in rubles.

in The Field

The geopolitical battle has also intensified on the ground, with the Russian military saying on Wednesday that its missiles have hit a number of weapons that the United States and European countries had supplied to Ukraine.

A day earlier, explosions rocked the breakaway region of Transnistria in neighboring Moldova, destroying two powerful radio antennas and stoking fears the war could spread to Ukraine. No one claimed responsibility for the attacks — the second in as many days — but Ukraine effectively blamed Russia.

And a Russian missile struck a strategic railway bridge linking Ukraine’s port region of Odessa with neighboring NATO member Romania, Ukrainian authorities said.

Just across the border in Russia, a munitions depot caught fire in the Belgorod region early Wednesday after multiple explosions, Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said on the Telegram messaging app.

gas cut

Gazprom’s decision to shut off gas to two European countries is another dark turning point in the war that reignited Cold War geopolitical divisions, and it had immediate repercussions. Gas prices in Europe rose 25%, with Dutch benchmark futures falling to around €125 from around €100 per megawatt hour.

Fatih Birol, the executive director of the Paris-based International Energy Agency, called the decision a “militarization of energy supply” on Twitter.

“Gazprom’s decision to completely halt gas supplies to Poland is another sign of Russia’s politicization of existing deals and will only accelerate European efforts to break away from Russian energy supplies,” he wrote.

EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called the decision “the umpteenth attempt by Russia to use gas as an instrument of blackmail”.

Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov also described the suspension of gas supplies as blackmail and said it was “a blatant breach of contract”.

“We will not succumb to such blackmail,” he added.

The cut in gas supplies marks “a historic turning point in bilateral energy relations” between Russia and Europe, said Simone Tagliapietra of the Bruegel think tank in Brussels.

speed of war

On Tuesday, the US defense chief urged Ukraine’s allies to “move at war speed” to deliver more and heavier weapons to Kyiv as Russian forces rained fire on eastern and southern Ukraine.

Poland, Russia’s historical rival, has been a key gateway for arms supplies to Ukraine and confirmed this week that it is sending tanks to the country. She assured that she was well prepared for Wednesday’s gas shutdown.

Poland also has plenty of natural gas reserves and will soon benefit from the commissioning of two pipelines, Rystad Energy analyst Emily McClain said.

Bulgaria gets more than 90% of its gas from Russia and officials said they are working to find other sources such as Azerbaijan.

Like almost all Russian gas customers in Europe, both countries had resisted Russia’s demand to pay in rubles.

Two months into the fighting, Western weapons were helping Ukraine block the Russian invasion, but the country’s leadership warned they needed more support quickly.

US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin called a meeting of officials from about 40 countries at the US Air Force Base in Ramstein on Tuesday and assured that more help is on the way.

“We must move at war speed,” said Mr. Austin.

After fierce resistance by Ukrainian forces thwarted Russia’s attempt to take the Ukrainian capital, Moscow now says its aim is to seize Donbass, the predominantly Russian-speaking industrial area in eastern Ukraine.

In the burnt-out southern port city of Mariupol, Russian forces bombed the Azovstal steel plant with 35 airstrikes within 24 hours. The factory is the last known stronghold of Ukrainian fighters in the city. Around 1,000 civilians are believed to have taken refuge there, along with around 2,000 Ukrainian defenders.

Petro Andryushchenko, an adviser to the Mariupol mayor, said Russia was using heavy bunker bombs. He also accused Russian forces of shelling a route they had proposed as an evacuation corridor from the steelworks.

Ukraine also said Russian forces had seen Kharkiv, the country’s second largest city, outside the Donbass but as key to Russia’s apparent attempt to encircle Ukrainian troops in the region.

Ukrainian forces fought back in the Kherson region to the south.

The attack on the bridge near Odessa on Tuesday – along with a series of strikes at key train stations a day earlier – appeared to signal a major shift in Russia’s approach. So far, Moscow has spared strategic bridges, perhaps hoping to keep them for its own use when it takes over Ukraine. But now Russia appears to be trying to thwart Ukraine’s efforts to move troops and supplies.

Ukraine’s southern coast and Moldova have been on edge since a senior Russian military officer said last week the Kremlin’s goal is to secure not just eastern Ukraine but the entire south, opening the way to Transnistria, a long and narrow strip open country with around 470,000 people along the Ukrainian border, where around 1,500 Russian soldiers are stationed.

It was unclear who was behind the blasts in Transnistria, but the attacks raised fears Russia was stirring up trouble to create an excuse to either invade Transnistria or use the region as another launch pad for an attack on Ukraine .

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