Russia cuts off gas to Poland and Bulgaria, exposing EU confusion
Bulgaria has long had warmer relations with Russia, but Prime Minister Kirill Petkov, an anti-graft campaigner who took office last year, has denounced the invasion of Ukraine. He was due in Kyiv on Wednesday to meet President Volodymyr Zelenskyy.
Bulgaria and Poland are the only two European countries with Gazprom contracts due to expire at the end of this year, which meant their search for alternative supplies was well under way.
The cut-off comes as the weather turns warmer and the need for gas heating dwindles, and so is unlikely to lead to immediate supply cuts to consumers. Poland says it has ample gas in storage, and Bulgaria, a comparatively small consumer, is seeking alternative supplies from Greece and Turkey.
But if the cut-off lasts for many months or spreads to other countries, it could cause havoc for a continent that relies on plentiful and cheap Russian gas to heat homes, power factories and generate electricity.
Kyiv has been urging EU countries to stop funding Moscow’s war effort by halting imports that bring Russia hundreds of millions of dollars a day. Germany, the biggest buyer of Russian energy, hopes to stop importing Russian oil within days, but weaning itself off Russian gas is a far bigger challenge.
Economy Minister Robert Habeck said a Russian energy embargo or blockade would tip Germany, Europe’s largest economy, into recession.
At the same time, a Russian economy ministry document indicated that Russia’s economy could shrink by as much as 12.4 per cent this year, as sanctions bite.
Since the Russian invasion force was driven back at the outskirts of Kyiv last month, Moscow has refocused its operation on eastern Ukraine, starting a new offensive from several directions to fully capture two provinces known as the Donbas.
“Russia has already gathered strength for a large-scale offensive in eastern Ukraine… in the coming days we will need all our resilience and extraordinary unity,” Ukrainian Defence Minister Oleksiy Reznikov said on his Facebook page.