Gazprom: Ursula von der Leyen urges against paying in Rubles
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Germany and Italy have reportedly both told gas companies they can keep buying Russian gas by opening ruble accounts in Moscow. It comes after the Kremlin told “unfriendly” countries they had until March 31 to pay for Russian gas in rubles or else face a supply cut. He made clear European nations should open up ruble accounts in Russian banks or Moscow would terminate its gas contracts.
But Commission President Ursula von der Leyen warned against this, arguing it would undermine sanctions targeted at Russian banks.
Now, Germany and Italy have reportedly been told they could still open ruble accounts without breaching sanctions after discussions with the EU.
Brussels has now given two sets of written guidance on how to buy Russian gas without breaching sanctions.
But EU officials are still reportedly advising firms not to open ruble accounts with Gazprombank after a closed-door meeting, Euractiv reports.
EU diplomats are also said to be concerned this risks sparking division within the bloc.
One diplomat said: “One has the impression that it leaves the door open for business as usual.”
The diplomat added that splits within the EU could start to form if some companies open ruble accounts while others do not.
Other diplomats believe the bloc is being purposefully ambiguous “to create just enough room for all the different interpretations”.
But a Commission spokesman said on Thursday it was not “advisable” for companies to open ruble accounts.
Both Germany and Italy are heavily dependent on Russian gas and have signalled opposition to immediately cutting Russian supplies.
German Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck has said could completely phase out Russian gas by the middle of 2024, despite the EU’s goal to slash oil and gas imports altogether by 2027.
The country relies on Russian imports for 60 percent of its total supplies and has previously come under fire for taking a soft stance towards Putin amid his Ukraine invasion.
Two sources said Berlin told German gas importers they can open ruble accounts without violating sanctions if their payments to Gazprombank are not in rubles.
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But this would likely still merit a supply cut from Putin, who has threatened to rip up gas contracts if purchases are not made in the Russian currency.
An Italian gas company, Eni, has already appeared to cave to Moscow’s request and opened two accounts, one in euros and one in rubles.
Belgium MEP Guy Verhofstadt unleashed his fury at the bloc for letting this happen on its watch.
He tweeted: “We’ll buy his oil.
“We’ll find a fix to buy his gas with rubles.
“We’ll not touch his cronies too much. Let’s hope brave Ukraine stops Putin soon because we certainly won’t.”
But Eni claimed it took the decision to ensure that its next payment for Russian gas due in the “next few days” gets accepted by Russia.
It comes after Putin proved he would stick to his word when he temporarily cut off pipeline gas to Bulgaria and Poland after the two nations refused to pay in rubles.
Warsaw’s Commissioner for Strategic Energy Infrastructure Piotr Naimski said: “We will not pay.
“Various possibilities and risks are being considered and we’re prepared for them.
“If it is necessary, and if such a decision is made, we’re able to cut ourselves off from the gas supplies at a moment’s notice, and we’re ready for Russian actions, including an interruption in supplies.”
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