A day after the United States and other Western allies promised to expedite more and better military supplies to Ukraine, the Kremlin upped the ante, using its top export as leverage. European gas prices shot up after the news, which European leaders denounced as “blackmail”.
In a memo, state-controlled Russian giant Gazprom said it was cutting off its natural gas in Poland and Bulgaria because they refused to pay in Russian rubles, as President Vladimir Putin had requested. The company said it has not received any such payment since the beginning of the month.
The gas cuts don’t immediately put countries in serious trouble as they have been working to find alternative sources for several years and the continent is heading into summer, making gas less important to households.
Still, it sent a shiver of concern through the 27-nation European Union, which immediately convened a special coordination group to limit the impact of the move.
On the ground, too, the geopolitical battle intensified, with the Russian military claiming on Wednesday its missiles had hit a number of weapons supplied to Ukraine by the US and European nations.
A day earlier, explosions rocked the separatist region of Transnistria in neighboring Moldova, destroying two powerful radio antennas and stoking fears the war could spread beyond Ukraine’s borders. No one claimed responsibility for the attacks – the second in as many days – but Ukraine blamed Russia.
And a Russian missile struck a strategic railway bridge linking Ukraine’s port region of Odessa with neighboring Romania, a NATO member, Ukrainian authorities said.
Just across the border in Russia, a munitions depot in the Belgorod region was on fire early Wednesday after multiple explosions were heard, Governor Vyacheslav Gladkov said via messaging app Telegram.
Gazprom’s decision to shut off gas to two European countries was another dark twist in the war that resurfaced Cold War geopolitical rifts and had immediate repercussions. European gas prices rose 25%, with Dutch benchmark futures jumping from around €100 per megawatt hour to around €125.
Fatih Birol, the executive director of the Paris-based International Energy Agency, called the move a “weaponization of energy supplies” in a tweet.
“Gazprom’s move to completely halt gas supplies to Poland is another sign of Russia’s politicization of existing agreements and will only accelerate European efforts to break away from Russian energy supplies,” he wrote.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen called the move “another attempt by Russia to use gas as a blackmail tool.”
Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov also described the suspension of gas supplies as blackmail and said it was “a gross breach of contract”.
“We will not succumb to such a racket,” he added.
The disruption marks “a historic turning point in bilateral energy relations” between Russia and Europe, said Simone Tagliapietra, senior fellow at the Bruegel think tank in Brussels.
On Tuesday, the US defense chief urged Ukraine’s allies to “move at war speed” to bring more and heavier weapons to Kyiv while Russian forces rained fire on eastern and southern Ukraine.
Poland, a historic rival of Russia, has been a key gateway for supplying arms to Ukraine and confirmed this week that it is sending tanks to the country. It was said that they were well prepared for the gas shutdown on Wednesday.
Poland also has plenty of natural gas stored and will soon benefit from two pipelines coming online, Rystad Energy analyst Emily McClain said.
Bulgaria gets over 90% of its gas from Russia, and officials said they are working to find other sources, such as from Azerbaijan.
Both countries had rejected Russia’s demand that almost all of Russia’s gas customers in Europe pay in rubles.
Two months into the fighting, Western weapons have helped Ukraine hold back the Russian invasion, but the country’s leaders have said they need more support quickly.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin called a meeting of officials from about 40 countries at the U.S. Air Force Base in Ramstein, Germany on Tuesday and said more help was on the way.
“We must move at wartime speed,” Austin said.
After unexpectedly fierce resistance by Ukrainian forces thwarted Russia’s attempt to take Ukraine’s capital, Moscow now says its focus is conquering Donbass, the predominantly Russian-speaking industrial area in eastern Ukraine.
In the burnt-out southern port city of Mariupol, Russian forces hit the Azovstal steel plant with 35 airstrikes within 24 hours. The plant is the last known stronghold of Ukrainian fighters in the city. About 1,000 civilians are said to have taken shelter there, along with an estimated 2,000 Ukrainian defenders.
Petro Andryushchenko, an adviser to the Mariupol mayor, said Russia was using heavy bunker bombs. He also accused Russian forces of shelling a route they had offered as an escape corridor from the steelworks.
Ukraine also said Russian forces shelled Kharkiv, the country’s second-largest city, which lies outside of the Donbass but is seen as key to Russia’s apparent attempt to encircle Ukrainian troops in the region.
Ukrainian troops struck back in the Kherson region to the south.
The attack on the bridge near Odessa on Tuesday – along with a series of strikes on key train stations a day earlier – appeared to signal a major shift in Russia’s approach. So far, Moscow has spared strategic bridges, perhaps hoping to keep them for its own use in conquering Ukraine. But now it appears to be trying to thwart Ukraine’s efforts to move troops and supplies.
The coasts of southern Ukraine and Moldova have been on edge since a senior Russian military officer said last week the Kremlin’s goal is to secure not just eastern Ukraine but the entire south in order to open the way to Transnistria, a long, narrow strip of land with about 470,000 inhabitants along the Ukrainian border, on which about 1,500 Russian troops are stationed.
It was not clear who was behind the blasts in Transnistria, but the attacks raised fears that Russia was stirring up unrest to create an excuse to either invade Transnistria or use the region as another launch pad for an attack on Ukraine .
Gambrell reported from Lviv, Ukraine. Associated Press journalist Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, David Keyton in Kyiv, Oleksandr Stashevskyi in Chernobyl, Mstyslav Chernov in Kharkiv, and AP collaborators around the world contributed to this report.
Copyright © 2022 by The Associated Press. All rights reserved.
https://abc13.com/russia-ukraine-war-nuclear-weapons-blinken/11795913/ Russia cuts off 2 European Union nations from its gas in escalation of war