Some of Europe’s biggest energy companies are preparing to undercut EU sanctions by agreeing to pay for Russian gas in roubles, according to reports.
As ordered by Vladimir Putin, large gas companies in Germany, Austria, Slovakia and Hungary intend to open accounts with Gazprombank after Moscow halted gas supplies to Bulgaria and Poland yesterday for their refusal to pay in roubles.
Russia’s decision resulted in European gas prices surging by 24 percent yesterday, with prices on Thursday rising a further 4 percent. Western leaders accused Moscow of blackmail and of trying shake the EU’s unity over its support of Ukraine.
Russia’s decision to cut off Poland and Bulgaria sparked fears that the Kremlin could next target countries – like Italy, Germany and Austria – amid Putin’s insistence that ‘unfriendly’ states must pay their bills in roubles.
One expert told the Times that most European Union importers were ‘extraordinarily’ likely to give way to Russia.
Several countries have drawn up plans to ration supplies, which could see major industry and manufacturers ordered to shut down to protect gas for homes and prevent blackouts.
The Russian move is forcing governments across Europe to speed up a switch to alternative supplies. Western officials say that this represents a major strategic failure for Moscow.
A senior European Union official warned on Thursday that the EU will consider any energy company opening an account with Gazprombank in roubles as a violation of sanctions that have been placed on Russia.
The official also said the EU cannot accept that payments in euros to Russia for gas are considered completed by Moscow only after they are converted into roubles.
‘What we cannot accept is that companies are obliged to open a second account and that between the first and second account, the amount in euros is in the full hands of the Russian authorities and the Russian Central Bank, and that the payment is only complete when it is converted into roubles,’ the official said.
They noted that could be considered a loan to the Russian central bank, adding: ‘This is absolutely clear circumvention of the sanctions.’
Another senior EU official said that there is ‘consensus on this from all member states, is that none is willing to pay’ in roubles.