Russian gas supply to Poland resumes; Ukraine condemns “gas blackmail”

  • Poland’s gas supply resumes; not a word about Bulgaria
  • Ukraine accuses Russia of blackmailing Europe
  • Germany sends tanks to Ukraine
  • Britain says Ukraine controls most of its airspace

WARSAW/SOFIA/KYIV, April 27 (Reuters) – Russia’s gas supply to Poland was briefly interrupted on Wednesday, data from European Union gas transmission operators showed, raising fears that Russia could shut down gas taps to Ukraine’s allies in what it calls “gas blackmail”.

NATO and EU members Poland and Bulgaria earlier said Russia would cut gas supplies to them on Wednesday, amid a deepening rift between Europe and Russia over his invasion of Ukraine.

Ukraine has accused Russia of blackmailing Europe over energy in a bid to break up its allies, as fighting continues in a third month without Russia capturing a major city.

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A staunch opponent of the Kremlin, Poland is one of the European countries calling for the toughest sanctions against Russia for invading its neighbour.

The European Union Gas Transmission Operators Network said gas to Poland was briefly cut off, but later restored, and increased slightly after falling to zero.

Russian gas supplies to Bulgaria were continuing for the time being, Vladimir Malinov, chief executive of Bulgarian gas network operator Bulgartransgaz, told Reuters.

Besides Bulgaria, Hungary and Austria said the gas supply was normal.

Polish state-owned PGNiG (PGN.WA) previously said supplies from Russian energy giant Gazprom (GAZP.MM) – which covers about 50% of its national consumption – would be cut at 8 a.m. ( 0600 GMT) on Wednesday, but Poland said it did not need to draw on reserves and its gas storage was 76% full.

Russian President Vladimir Putin has called on “unfriendly” countries to pay for gas imports in roubles, a request only a few buyers have implemented.

“The ultimate goal of the Russian leadership is not just to seize the territory of Ukraine, but to dismember all of central and eastern Europe and deliver a comprehensive blow to democracy,” he said. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy said on Tuesday.

His chief of staff, Andriy Yermak, said Russia was “starting the gas blackmail of Europe”.

“Russia is trying to break the unity of our allies,” Yermak said.

Bulgaria, which depends almost entirely on Russian gas imports, said it had met all of its contractual obligations with Gazprom and that the proposed new payment system was in breach of the arrangement.

It has held initial talks to import liquefied natural gas via neighboring Turkey and Greece.

Gazprom said earlier that Poland should pay for the gas according to its new “payment order”. He declined to comment on Bulgaria.

The invasion of Ukraine, launched on February 24, left thousands dead or injured, reduced cities to rubble and forced more than 5 million people to flee abroad.

Moscow calls its actions a “special operation” to disarm Ukraine and protect it from fascists.

Ukraine and the West say it is a false pretext for an unprovoked war aimed at seizing territory in a move that has raised fears of a wider conflict in Europe not seen since the Second World War.

Russia’s ambassador to the United States has warned Washington to stop sending arms to Ukraine, saying large Western arms shipments are making the situation worse.

More than 40 countries gathered in Germany on Tuesday to discuss Ukraine’s defense.

Mark Milley, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters as he traveled to Tuesday’s meeting that the next few weeks in Ukraine would be “very, very critical”.

Germany announced Tuesday its first delivery of heavy weapons to Ukraine, including Gepard tanks equipped with anti-aircraft guns. Read more

Ukrainian demands for heavy weapons have intensified since Moscow shifted its offensive to the eastern Donbass region, seen as better suited for tank battles than the areas around the capital kyiv where much of the previous fighting took place .

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 around the same time.

A regional governor said a fire at an ammunition depot near the village of Staraya Nelidovka had been extinguished and no civilians had been injured. Read more

This month, Russia accused Ukraine of attacking a fuel depot in Belgorod with helicopters and opening fire on several villages in the province.

The province borders the Ukrainian regions of Luhansk, Sumy and Kharkiv, all of which have seen heavy fighting since Russia invaded Ukraine two months ago.

The Ukrainian General Staff said in a Wednesday morning update that Russian forces had captured some settlements in the northeast and east and that a Russian assault on Ukrainian forces standing in the steel mill of Azovstal in the southern city of Mariupol continued.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told Russia’s Foreign Minister on Tuesday that he was ready to fully mobilize the organization’s resources to save lives and evacuate residents of Mariupol.

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, according to the city’s mayor. Read more

“Now we see what this ‘friendship’ is – the destruction of Ukrainian cities…killing tens of thousands of peaceful people,” said Kyiv Mayor Vitaly Klitschko.

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Additional reporting by Reuters reporters; Written by Costas Pitas and Michael Perry; Editing by Rosalba O’Brien, Robert Birsel

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