The Russian energy giant Gazprom has stopped supplying gas to Poland and Bulgaria, claiming they have failed to pay for their energy in rubles. Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission, described the move as “yet another attempt by Russia to use gas as an instrument of blackmail.”
In response to financial restrictions imposed by the West, Russia has been trying to prop up its currency by demanding payments for oil and gas supplies in rubles. European governments, including Germany and Poland, have insisted that such demands constitute a breach of the contracts originally signed by Gazprom. Poland plans to cancel the renewal of its Gazprom contract at the end of this year.
Now, Russia has finally made good on longstanding threats to cut off “unfriendly” EU countries over punitive sanctions. “This is unjustified and unacceptable,” von der Leyen said in a statement. “And it shows once again the unreliability of Russia as a gas supplier.”
How much do Poland and Bulgaria rely on Russian gas?
Last year, Russia supplied nearly 60% of Poland’s annual gas consumption of around 21 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas. Bulgaria uses around 3 bcm of gas annually, but nearly all of it comes from Russia. Poland’s gas stores are around 76% full, according to Gas Infrastructure Europe—a high amount, compared to the five-year-average of around 40% for this time of the year. But Bulgaria’s stores are only 17% full, compared to an average of 26%.
Over the years, Poland has built up other gas sources, including the US and Qatar, and the peak winter demand for the fuel has passed. European countries, such as Germany and Lithuania, can also supply Poland. As a result, Martin Przdacz, Poland’s deputy foreign minister, told the BBC: “I’m pretty sure that we will manage to handle this.”
Pipelines in both Poland and Bulgaria also funnel Russian gas on to other countries, such as Germany, Hungary and Serbia. Gazprom has warned that those supplies would be severed as well if gas was tapped illegally midway for use in Poland and Bulgaria.