The EU refuses to pay for gas in rubles and is preparing a break with Moscow

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Brussels (AFP) – The European Union refuses to pay for its gas purchases from Russia in rubles and faces a disruption in its supplies, the European Commission and the French Presidency warned after an emergency meeting of the 27 energy ministers in Brussels.

Moscow’s request to pay for purchases in rubles is “a unilateral and unjustified change in the contracts and it is legitimate to refuse it,” said Energy Commissioner Kadri Simson.

“97% of contracts (signed by European companies) specify the currency for payment and it’s either the euro or the US dollar,” she said.

Kadri Simson said he had no idea about opening ruble accounts. “Payments are scheduled for mid-May and the majority of companies will comply with contract rules,” she assured. French Minister for Ecological Transition Barbara Pompili, President of the meeting, confirmed the “willingness to honor the treaties”.

“We have to prepare for a supply interruption,” warned the EU Commissioner.

Several member states have asked for clarification on paying in rubles by opening a special account, and Kadri Simson promised “detailed clarification to explain to companies what they can and cannot do”.

Poland and Bulgaria paid for their purchases in the currency stipulated in their contracts with Russian gas giant Gazprom and refused to open a second ruble account. The Russian gas company retaliated by shutting down supplies after payment had not been made.

“We can handle the replacement of 2/3 of Russia’s gas supply,” she said.

Kadri Simson stressed that Member States need to replenish their reserves and Barbara Pompili stressed the need to “diversify the way electricity and heat are produced”.

“Europe must get rid of dependence on Russian fossil fuels,” said Polish Minister Anna Moskva. “Our reserves will be at 100% utilization for this winter,” she said. “American LNG has started arriving via Lithuania and we will ship gas from Norway via Denmark,” she explained.

Finalization of the oil embargo

Ministers also exchanged views on an EU plan to phase out purchases of Russian oil and petroleum products in order to dry up European funding for the Kremlin-led war in Ukraine. But no decision has been made yet.

“A new package of sanctions is being prepared, but that was not the subject of the meeting,” said Barbara Pompili.

Imports of Russian natural gas to the EU Sylvie Husson AFP

“We are working on a new sanctions package,” confirmed Commissioner Simson.

“A meeting of the college (all commissioners, editor’s note) will take place in Strasbourg on Tuesday,” on the fringes of the parliamentary session, “and President Ursula von der Leyen will clarify what has been decided,” she announced.

The proposal has been “completed and will be adopted by the Commission on Tuesday,” a European source told AFP news agency.

“I think the commission will propose tomorrow (Tuesday) a 6th package of sanctions, including the withdrawal of Russian oil,” said Federal Minister Robert Habeck.

The proposal will be submitted to member states for adoption on Wednesday. “I don’t know if that will be possible by the weekend,” said the Federal Minister, however.

If the 27 agree on this measure, the purchase of oil and petroleum products from Russia will be phased out over six to eight months, but with measures effective immediately, notably a tax on the transport of tankers, a European official said.

The EU has already imposed an embargo on Russian coal and closed its ports to Russian ships, except for transporting hydrocarbons.

Polish Climate and Environment Minister Anna Moskwa on May 2, 2022 in Brussels
Polish Climate and Environment Minister Anna Moskwa on May 2, 2022 in Brussels JOHN THYS AFP

The main importers of fossil fuels from Russia (gas, crude oil, petroleum products and coal) are Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and France.

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