Withholding Energy as a Weapon

As Russia intensifies its offensive in Ukraine, energy security has become a matter of urgency for Poland and Bulgaria after Russia announced they will suspend the flow of natural gas through its pipelines to these two NATO and EU members.

2 minute read

April 27, 2022, 11:00 AM PDT

By Irvin Dawid

Natural Gas

QiuJu Song / Shutterstock

Europe's energy fears since Russia invaded Ukraine over two months ago have been realized. Russian gas has been weaponized.

“Infuriated by the West’s supply of arms and other support to help Ukraine resist invading Russian troops, Moscow on Tuesday took the fight to Europe’s economy, telling Poland and Bulgaria that it was halting supplies of natural gas, on which both countries and Europe in general are heavily dependent,” reports Andrew Higgins, the New York Times bureau chief for East and Central Europe based in Warsaw, on Tuesday.

A decision by Russia’s energy behemoth Gazprom to cut off gas supplies to two countries that are both members of NATO and the European Union marks the first time that Moscow has directly and openly targeted Europe with its energy weapon. The move upends assurances by Moscow since the Soviet era that, no matter what the political climate, Russia could be counted on as a reliable supplier of natural gas.

On Tuesday, Poland’s main importer of Russian gas, the state-owned company PGNiG, said that Gazprom had announced the “complete suspension” of deliveries through the Yamal pipeline, which stretches from northern Siberia to Poland and Germany through Belarus.

“The two countries targeted Tuesday are especially vulnerable: Poland gets more than 45 percent of its natural gas from Russia and Bulgaria more than 70 percent, according to E.U. data,” wrote The Washington Post's breaking news reporter, Reis Thebault.

Russia's move was foreshadowed last month when Russia demanded that natural gas payments be made in rubles, not euros or dollars as the contracts specified, reported The Associated Press on March 31.

“If these payments are not made, we will consider it a failure of the buyer to fulfill its obligations, with all the ensuing consequences,” said President Vladimir Putin.

“The European Union has rejected the move in principle but now payment deadlines are starting to fall due, governments across Europe need to decide whether to accept Putin’s terms or lose crucial supplies -- and face the prospect of energy rationing,” reported Bloomberg News correspondents Maciej OnoszkoMaciej Martewicz, and Slav Okov on April 26.

“This is a turning point that has been accelerated by Russia today,” said Piotr Naimski, Poland’s top official for strategic energy infrastructure.

“European governments now need to deploy all emergency measures they have at their disposal, both on the supply and demand side to ensure security of supply," said Simone Tagliapietra, a senior fellow at Bruegel, the Brussels-based European economic think tank.

Hat tip to Adam Pasick who wrote the Times' Russia-Ukraine War Briefing newsletter on April 26 and referenced Higgin's piece.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022 in The New York Times

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