Russia has been accused of seeking to blackmail Europe, as the energy giant Gazprom confirmed it had halted gas supplies to Poland and Bulgaria and was prepared to target other countries.
The Kremlin said the dramatic move, widely seen as an attempt to weaponise Russia’s energy supplies, was a response to the failure by the two EU countries to make their payments in roubles.
The immediate consequence of Gazprom’s decision was a 20% rise in the wholesale gas price, driving it almost seven times higher than a year ago and hitting the pockets of consumers across the continent.
Vladimir Putin’s spokesperson, Dmitry Peskov, said other countries could also lose supply, in a warning shot to governments across Europe, including Germany, where officials admitted to being worried. The EU imports around 40% of its gas from Russia.
A spokesperson for the German economic ministry said: “We are seeing with concern that there has been a stop of deliveries to European partner countries. We are coordinating closely within the European Union to consolidate the situation.”
He added that there were currently no signs that gas deliveries to Germany, which relies on Russia for 40% of its supply, were being affected but opposition MPs called on the government to enact an embargo of Russian gas now in anticipation of further stops.
“Russia needs to know: when they hit one of us, we all respond,” tweeted Norbert Röttgen of the Christian Democratic Union (CDU). “Therefore an oil and gas embargo is now also a question of European solidarity!”
Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, condemned Moscow’s move but said that fellow EU countries and the US had already come to Poland and Bulgaria’s aid.
She said: “Gazprom’s announcement that it is unilaterally stopping gas delivery to certain EU member states is another provocation from the Kremlin.
“But it comes as no surprise that the Kremlin uses fossil fuels to try to blackmail us.
“This is something the European Commission has been preparing for, in close coordination and solidarity with member states and international partners. Our response will be immediate, united and coordinated.”
Von der Leyen said the EU had reached a deal with Joe Biden’s White House for an increased supply of liquefied natural gas from the US this year and in the coming years and that a sixth wave of sanctions would soon be imposed on Russia.
In response to claims from Gazprom on Wednesday that 10 unnamed European companies had already agreed to pay in roubles, she added that this would be a breach of the bloc’s sanctions regime.
She said: “This latest aggressive move by Russia is another reminder that we need to work with reliable partners, and build our energy independence.
“Today, the Kremlin failed once again in this attempt to sow division between Europeans. The era of Russian fossil fuels in Europe will come to an end. Europe is moving forward on energy issues.”
Poland’s prime minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, described Russia’s move as a “direct attack” on his country, adding his government had “been preparing for this moment for years”.
“From the autumn, Poland will not need Russian gas at all,” he said. “We will cope with this blackmail, with this gun to our head in such a way that Poles will not feel it.”
Bulgaria’s energy minister, Alexander Nikolov, said Russia was weaponising its dominant position in gas and oil supply.
He said: “It is clear that at the moment the natural gas is being used more as a political and economic weapon in the current war.”
Putin said in March that those countries that were “unfriendly” over the war in Ukraine would have to change their method of payment for gas supplies.
By refusing to switch to roubles, European governments were opting to “punish Russia at any cost to the detriment of their own consumers, taxpayers and producers”, Peskov said, adding that others who failed to pay in roubles would face the same consequences.
The European Commission had nevertheless said companies should continue to pay Gazprom in the currency agreed in their contracts, about 97% of which are in euros or dollars.
Russian imports account for more than 90% of Bulgaria’s gas needs but the government insisted that no restrictions would be imposed on domestic gas consumption for the moment.
Nikolov said: “As long as I am a minister and responsible for this, Bulgaria will not negotiate under pressure and with its head bowed. Bulgaria does not give in and is not sold at any price.”
The only EU leader who has suggested he would pay Gazprom in roubles is Hungary’s Viktor Orbán, whose rightwing government has pursued a close relationship with Putin’s regime for more than a decade.
Hungary’s foreign minister, Péter Szijjártó, said “the news that Gazprom’s deliveries to Bulgaria have stopped may be worrying”, but he added that the transit of Russian gas to Hungary via Bulgaria would continue.
He said: “I would like to reassure everybody that the non-delivery of gas to Bulgaria does not mean the stop of transit through Bulgaria.”