European gas prices surged Wednesday after Russia’s state-owned energy giant Gazprom cut off the supply of gas to NATO members Poland and Bulgaria, a move seen as a significant escalation of what has been dubbed a “fossil fuel war” between Moscow and the West.
Announced two months into Russia’s deadly assault on Ukraine, Gazprom’s decision came weeks after the United States halted fossil fuel imports from Russia and vowed to help European nations end their reliance on Russian oil and gas.
The Kremlin said the suspension of gas shipments to the Bulgarian company Bulgargaz and the Polish firm PGNiG over their “failure to pay in rubles” instead of euros or dollars and signaled it could take similar action against other countries.
Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov characterized Russia’s move as a breach of contract and said that “we will not succumb to such a racket” — a message echoed by the leadership of the European Union, of which Poland and Bulgaria are members.
“The announcement by Gazprom that it is unilaterally stopping delivery of gas to customers in Europe is yet another attempt by Russia to use gas as an instrument of blackmail,” said Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European Commission. “This is unjustified and unacceptable.”
The Associated Press reported Wednesday that Russia’s move “could eventually force targeted nations to ration gas and deal another blow to economies suffering from rising prices.”
“It could also deprive Russia of badly needed income to fund its war effort,” the AP added. “Natural gas prices in Europe shot up 25% before the market opened Wednesday and then eased off but remained significantly higher.”
Fatih Birol, executive director of the International Energy Agency, tweeted Wednesday that “Gazprom unilaterally cutting gas supplies to Bulgaria and Poland today makes it clearer than ever that Europe needs to move quickly to reduce its reliance on Russian energy.”
Gazprom unilaterally cutting gas supplies to Bulgaria & Poland today makes it clearer than ever that Europe needs to move quickly to reduce its reliance on Russian energy@IEA strongly supports Poland & Bulgaria as they respond to this latest weaponization of energy supplies
— Fatih Birol (@fbirol) April 27, 2022
Prior to Russia’s full-scale assault on Ukraine, the European Union relied on Russia for around 40% of its gas supply and 27% of its oil imports, dependence that initially left E.U. members hesitant to target the Russian fossil fuel industry.
Last month, the Biden administration announced that it would take steps to increase U.S. gas exports to E.U. nations as they attempt to wean themselves off Russian fossil fuels. The U.S. move, which climate advocates slammed as dangerous for the planet, could be a major boon for American fossil fuel companies as they seize upon the war in Ukraine to expand their operations and boost profits.
One recent analysis estimated U.S. oil and gas corporations are poised to rake in windfall profits of up to $126 billion this year as Russia’s attack on Ukraine continues with no end in sight.
The Intercept reported earlier this week that U.S. fossil fuel lobbyists are hard at work exploiting Russia’s war on Ukraine to bolster their long-sought plans to increase fracked gas production and export capacity despite years of local opposition to such projects — and their role in accelerating the climate crisis.
“The unfolding crisis is now a common — and effective — talking point for corporate interest groups seeking regulatory relief,” the outlet noted.