29th May 2022

Brussels warns on Russian gas cuts: 'Any country could be next'

  • The sixth package is expected to include an oil embargo (Photo: Equinor)
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EU energy ministers gathered in Brussels on Monday (2 May) to discuss Russia's decision to cut gas supplies to Bulgaria and Poland — amid growing pressure to impose stricter sanctions on Moscow.

Russia halted supplies to Bulgaria and Poland last week after both eastern European countries failed to meet Moscow's demands for gas payments in roubles.

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EU energy commissioner Kadri Simson told a press conference on Monday that such an "unjustified" decision means "any member state could be next".

The cut-off has triggered fears and confusion among European companies and member states over the right course of action with the deadline for the next payments expected at the end of May.

Nevertheless, the EU has said gas payments through the conversion mechanism in roubles requested by Moscow would breach the EU sanctions regime against Russia.

Polish climate minister Anna Moskwa said in Brussels that her country was "safe" in terms of energy because the country's gas storage is filled at 76-percent capacity and liquified natural gas deliveries are increasing.

EU ministers also discussed national contingency plans for gas supply disruptions as well as efforts to diversify supplies and increase gas storage ahead of the next winter's heating season.

But renewed calls to accelerate Europe's green transition also emerged before the meeting in Brussels.

"It isn't just about getting alternative supplies, it's also about using less [energy]," Irish energy minister Eamon Ryan said.

Belgian energy minister Tinne Van der Straeten, for her part, said Europe should increase investment in solar and wind because these technologies cannot be "weaponized".

EU close to agree oil embargo

Emergency talks took place ahead of intense discussions over a potential new package of sanctions against Moscow later this week.

The sixth package, which will include an oil embargo with certain exemptions for some oil products, will be discussed by EU ambassadors on Wednesday and could be agreed upon as early as Friday, an EU diplomat told EUobserver.

Austria and Germany, which have been strongly opposing the idea of an oil embargo, have now backed the plan.

But Berlin says the potential EU's oil embargo should give countries time to prepare their infrastructure.

"It would help if we have some weeks or months to do technical preparations … [regarding] the harbours and the pipelines," Robert Habeck, Germany's economy and climate protection minister, said in Brussels on Monday.

Nevertheless, halting Moscow's oil imports remains a controversial issue for some countries.

Hungary and Slovakia are heavily dependent on Russian oil and both countries have asked for more time to update their oil infrastructure and phase out imports from Moscow.

Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán previously said an embargo on Russian oil or gas imports was "a red line" for his country.

Hungary and Slovakia could be exempt from the Russian oil embargo, according to a Reuters report.

The EU has imposed a total of five packages of sanctions on Russia over its invasion of Ukraine in February. Restrictive measures have so far spared oil and gas — Moscow's two main sources of income internationally.

An analysis by the Centre for Research on Energy and Clean Air found that EU countries have paid more than €45bn to Russia for gas and oil imports since the invasion of Ukraine began in late February.

EU Commission extends borrowing curbs in 2023

The European Commission on Monday proposed to extend suspension of fiscal borrowing rule in 2023 — but advised prudence amid already rising real interest rates.

Commission grilled on RePowerEU €210bn pricetag

EU leaders unveiled a €210bn strategy aiming to cut Russian gas out of the European energy equation before 2027 and by two-thirds before the end of the year — but questions remain on how it is to be financed.

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