EU promises 'coordinated response' to Russia gas stoppage

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The EU said Wednesday it was "prepared" for Moscow to suspend gas supplies to the 27-nation bloc and is planning a "coordinated" response after Russia's Gazprom turned off the taps to Poland and Bulgaria.

"Gazprom's announcement is another attempt by Russia to blackmail us with gas. We are prepared for this scenario. We are mapping out our coordinated EU response," European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen said on Twitter.

"Europeans can trust that we stand united and in solidarity with the member states impacted."

Earlier, Gazprom had announced the halt of gas to both Poland and highly dependent Bulgaria after not receiving payment in rubles from the two EU members.

President Vladimir Putin had said last month that Russia would no longer accept payments in currencies other than the ruble in retaliation for the West's economic sanctions against Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.

The war, which is now entering its third month, has laid bare the extent of the EU's dependence on Russian gas, which accounts for 45 percent of its gas imports.

Bulgaria and Poland have both said they will be able to make up the shortfall from other sources.

"We have been working to ensure alternative deliveries and the best possible storage levels across the EU," von der Leyen said in a statement.

"Member states have put in place contingency plans for just such a scenario and we worked with them in coordination and solidarity," she continued.

"A meeting of the gas coordination group is taking place right now."

Von der Leyen slammed the unilateral move by Russia as "unjustified and unacceptable".

"And it shows once again the unreliability of Russia as a gas supplier," she added.

"Blackmail"

Bulgaria's Prime Minister Kiril Petkov on Wednesday described as "blackmail" Russia's decision to halt gas supplies to the EU member.

The move on the part of Russian energy giant Gazprom "is a gross violation of the contract and blackmail... We won't give in to such racketeering," Petkov said, adding that Bulgaria for its part was reviewing all contracts with Gazprom, including the contract for transit through the Balkan country.

Hungary

Meanwhile, deliveries of Russian gas to Hungary, another EU memberstate, continue. The government of Hungary's strongman Viktor Orban agreed to provide for payment in rubles.

"Gas deliveries continue to flow to Hungary on schedule, without obstructions and according to the country’s long-term contract with Russia," according to Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Péter Szijjártó, who was quoted in Hungary Today.

But other countries that border Russia or the Ukraine may be hit if they don't comply to Russia's demand to pay in Rubles.

Finland and the Baltic states

Gasgrid Finland CEO Olli Sipilä told nation broadcaster YLE that "there will be no gas shortage in Finland even if the Russian pipeline is turned off."

Finland is only for 6 percent dependent on Russian gas, and supply from the Baltic states can easily compensate for the loss through the Balticonnector pipeline which connects Finland to supply from Latvia and Lithuania.

The Baltic States themselves already cut Russian gas to protest against Russia's invasion into Ukraine. Lithuania took the lead on 3 April after the discovery of a mass grave of people who appeared to have been tied up before being shot in Bucha, a suburb of Kyiv.

"From now on, Lithuania won’t be consuming a cubic cm of toxic Russian gas,” Ingrida Simonyte, the country’s prime minister, wrote on Twitter, hailing her country as the first EU member “to refuse Russian gas imports”.

"In these circumstances, Russia's demand to pay for gas in rubles is meaningless," added Minister of Energy Dainius Kreivys in a statement, as Lithuania no longer orders Russian gas and no longer plans to pay for it."

Lithuania, which started the process to switch to liquid gas some 14 years ago, currently sources much of its LNG from Norway, the US and Qatar, and says it can serve as an "example" for other EU countries willing to cut gas dependency on Russia.

Slovakia

Slovakia, which has indicated that it may pay rubles for Russian gas, is taking steps to reduce dependency.

“We are restricting support for gas-fired condensing boilers in line with the European Commission’s efforts to find ways of getting rid of dependence on Russian gas as quickly as possible,” Czech Environment Minister Anna Hubáčková said, quoted by Euractiv.

Moldova

Moldova is probably the most worried. "We are the most fragile neighbor of Ukraine because we are the country that is most affected and we are the country that has the fewest resources to deal with the situation and the fallout from the war,” according to Moldovan Minister of Foreign Affairs Nicu Popescu.

The landlocked country is for 100 percent dependent on Russian gas, which flows via Ukraine through Transnistria, a breakaway region that is occupied by elements of the Russian army.

100% of Moldova's gas supply comes from Russia while 80% of electricity comes from the Transnistria region.

The country, which is applying for EU membership, has been careful to avoid Moscow's wrath by not sending military assistance to Ukraine.

Europe's west

Further in the west of the continent, EU countries are less dependent on Russian gas. In France, the debate to become fully Russia-independent flared up after Russia's invasion of Ukraine on 24 February.

France’s government spokesman Gabriel Attal said in March that the option "should stay on the table," but added that with France accessing less than 20 percent of its gas from Russia, it is in a better position to say this than other EU countries, such as Germany which has a dependency of around 55 percent).

His remarks coincided with a statement by the European Commission, the EU's executive arm, which said it could "erase a huge share of its dependency on Russia by tapping new gas supplies, ramping up reserves for next winter and accelerating efforts to be more energy efficient."

"By the end of this year, we can replace 100 billion cubic metres of gas imports from Russia. That is two-thirds of what we import from them now," EU Commission vice president Frans Timmermans.

With Russia's latest actions, this agenda may need to be speeded up considerably.

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