Poland’s prime minister slammed Russia for trying to “blackmail” his country with a brutal gas supply cut, and accused the country of retaliating against new sanctions imposed by Warsaw this week.
Hours after the announcement of sanctions targeting 50 Russian oligarchs and companies – including energy giant Gazprom – Poland said it had been informed that Gazprom was cutting off supplies to Poland for failing to meet new payment requirements in Russian rubles. Gazprom should also cut off gas to Bulgaria.
Hungary and Austria said the gas supply was normal.
Addressing the Polish parliament, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki promised that Poland would not be intimidated by the gas cut. He said Poland was safe thanks to years of efforts to secure gas from other countries.
Lawmakers stood and cheered when he said Russia’s “gas blackmail” would have no effect on his country.
While Poland is much more dependent on coal, with gas accounting for only 9% of the country’s overall energy consumption, Russia supplied around 45% of the country’s gas.
Russian supplies to Poland were already due to end later this year and Poland had already made new plans. A new pipeline, The Baltic Pipe Project, is expected to be operational in the fall.
Gas used as a political tool
Gazprom said it also cut off gas supplies to Bulgaria, blaming non-payment in roubles.
But Bulgarian Energy Minister Alexander Nikolov said on Wednesday gas was still flowing for now, and his country would be able to meet user needs for at least a month.
“Alternative supplies are available, and Bulgaria hopes that alternative routes and supplies will also be secured at EU level,” Nikolov said, referring to an EU expert meeting scheduled for later Wednesday to plan the next steps.
“Obviously, gas is used as a political tool. As long as I am a minister, Bulgaria will not negotiate under pressure. Bulgaria is not for sale and does not succumb to any trade quid pro quo.”
Russia’s energy exports have largely continued since the start of the war, barring the sanctions that have otherwise cut off Moscow from much of its trade with the West.
Trying to break unity
Ukraine has accused Russia of blackmailing Europe over energy in a bid to break up its allies as fighting in Ukraine enters its third month. Buyers say demands for payment in Moscow rubles violate contracts, which provide for payment in euros.
Andriy Yermak, chief of staff to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, said Russia was “trying to break the unity of our allies”.
Bulgaria, which depends almost entirely on Russian gas imports, said the proposed new payment system was in breach of its agreement with Gazprom. It has had talks to import liquefied natural gas via neighboring Turkey and Greece.
Russia advances in eastern Ukraine
Since a Russian invasion force was pushed back to the outskirts of kyiv last month, Moscow has refocused its operations on eastern Ukraine, launching a new multi-directional offensive to entirely capture two provinces known as the name of Donbass.
The Ukrainian General Staff acknowledged that Russia had made gains in a number of areas in the east, capturing the outskirts of the towns of Velyka Komyshuvakha and Zavody on one front, as well as the settlements of Zarichne and Novoshtokivske in the Donetsk region.
He said the assault on Azovstal, a steelworks where Ukrainian defenders are holding out in the ruins of Mariupol port, was continuing.
In the south, Ukraine said it attacked Snake Island, a Black Sea outpost seized by Russia early in the war when defenders became heroes to Ukrainians for rejecting a Russian demand to surrender with an obscenity.
Ukraine says Russia is trying to stage a fake referendum in Kherson, the only regional capital it has captured so far, in an attempt to wrest it from Ukraine.
Explosions reported in Moldova
There are also growing concerns about the prospect of the conflict widening into neighboring Moldova, where pro-Russian separatists in a small region occupied since the 1990s by Russian troops have reported several explosions in recent days. .
The invasion of Ukraine left thousands dead or injured, reduced cities to rubble and forced more than five million people to flee abroad.
Moscow calls its actions a “special operation” to disarm Ukraine and protect it from fascists. Ukraine and the West call this a pretext for an unprovoked war to seize territory.
The United States and its allies are increasingly supplying Ukraine with heavy weapons for the fight in the East. More than 40 countries met at a US air base in Germany on Tuesday to discuss Ukraine’s defense. Germany has announced its first delivery of heavy weapons to Ukraine, including Gepard light tanks equipped with anti-aircraft guns.
Explosions were heard in the early hours of Wednesday in three Russian provinces bordering Ukraine, authorities said, and an ammunition depot in Belgorod province caught fire. The regional governor said the fire near the village of Staraya Nelidovka was extinguished and no civilians were injured.
This month, Russia accused Ukraine of attacking a fuel depot in Belgorod with helicopters and opening fire on several villages in the province. A massive fire also broke out this week at a fuel depot in nearby Bryansk. Ukraine does not confirm responsibility for the incidents reported on Russian territory.
British military intelligence said Ukraine retained control of most of its airspace and that Russia had failed to effectively destroy the Ukrainian Air Force or its air defences.
Ukrainian authorities on Tuesday dismantled a huge Soviet-era monument in central kyiv meant to symbolize friendship with Russia.
“Now we see what this ‘friendship’ is – the destruction of Ukrainian cities…killing tens of thousands of peaceful people,” Kyiv Mayor Vitaly Klitschko said.