Russia cuts off gas to 2 NATO nations in bid to divide West | World News

POKROVSK, Ukraine (AP) — Russia lower off pure fuel to NATO members Poland and Bulgaria on Wednesday and threatened to do the identical to different international locations, utilizing its most important export in what was seen as a bid to punish and divide the West over its assist for Ukraine.

The transfer, condemned by European leaders as “blackmail,” marked a dramatic escalation in the economic war of sanctions and countersanctions that has unfolded in parallel to the fighting on the battlefield.

The tactic, coming a day after the U.S. and different Western allies vowed to hurry extra and heavier weapons to Ukraine, might finally power focused nations to ration fuel and will deal one other blow to economies affected by rising costs. On the identical time, it might deprive Russia of badly wanted earnings to fund its conflict effort.

Poland has been a serious gateway for the supply of weapons to Ukraine and confirmed this week that it’s sending the nation tanks. Simply hours earlier than Russia’s state vitality big Gazprom acted, Poland introduced a brand new set of sanctions towards the corporate and different Russian companies and oligarchs.

Bulgaria, below a brand new liberal authorities that took workplace final fall, has lower a lot of its outdated ties to Moscow and likewise supported punitive measures towards the Kremlin. It has additionally hosted Western fighter jets at a brand new NATO outpost on Bulgaria’s Black Coastline.

The fuel cuts don’t instantly put the 2 international locations in any dire bother. Poland, particularly, has been working for a few years to line up different suppliers, and the continent is heading into summer time, making fuel much less important for households.

Additionally, Russian fuel deliveries to each Poland and Bulgaria have been anticipated to finish later this 12 months anyway.

Nonetheless, the cutoff and the Kremlin warning that different international locations may very well be subsequent despatched shivers of fear by way of the 27-nation European Union. Germany, the most important financial system on the continent, and Italy are amongst Europe’s greatest shoppers of Russian pure fuel, although they, too, have been taking steps to cut back their dependence on Moscow.

“It comes as no surprise that the Kremlin uses fossil fuels to try to blackmail us,” mentioned EU Fee President Ursula von der Leyen. “Today, the Kremlin failed once again in his attempt to sow division amongst member states. The era of Russian fossil fuel in Europe is coming to an end.”

Gazprom mentioned it shut off the 2 international locations as a result of they refused to pay in rubles, as President Vladimir Putin has demanded of “unfriendly” nations. The Kremlin said other countries may be cut off if they don’t agree to the payment arrangement.

Most European countries have publicly balked at Russia’s demand for rubles, but it is not clear how many have actually faced the moment of decision so far. Greece’s next scheduled payment to Gazprom is due on May 25, for example, and the government must decide then whether to comply.

Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki instructed his nation’s parliament that he believes Poland’s assist for Ukraine — and the brand new sanctions imposed by Warsaw on Tuesday — have been the true causes behind the fuel cutoff.

Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov referred to as the suspension blackmail, including: “We will not succumb to such a racket.”

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy mentioned that Russia views fuel as a weapon for political blackmail and “sees a united Europe as a target.”

On the battlefield, combating continued within the nation’s east alongside a largely static entrance line some 300 miles (480 kilometers) lengthy.

Russia claimed its missiles hit a batch of weapons that the U.S. and European nations had delivered to Ukraine. One particular person was killed and at the least two have been injured when rockets hit a residential neighborhood in Kharkiv.

Western officers, talking on situation of anonymity to debate intelligence findings, mentioned Russia has made gradual progress within the Donbas area within the east, with “minor gains,” together with the seize of villages and small cities south of Izyum and on the outskirts of Rubizhne.

They mentioned some Russian troops have been shifted from the gutted southern port metropolis of Mariupol to different components of the Donbas. However some stay in Mariupol to battle Ukrainian forces holed up on the Azovstal metal plant, the final stronghold within the metropolis. About 1,000 civilians have been mentioned to be taking shelter there with an estimated 2,000 Ukrainian defenders.

“The situation is very difficult. There are huge problems with water, food,” Serhii Volynskyi, commander of the marine unit contained in the plant, mentioned in a Fb video message. He mentioned lots of of fighters and civilians have been wounded and in want of medical assist, and people inside included youngsters, older folks and disabled folks.

Simply throughout the border in Russia, an ammunition depot within the Belgorod area burned after a number of explosions have been heard, the governor mentioned. Blasts have been additionally reported in Russia’s Kursk area close to the border, and authorities in Russia’s Voronezh area mentioned an air protection system shot down a drone.

Earlier this week, an oil storage facility within the Russian metropolis of Bryansk was engulfed by fireplace.

Ukrainian presidential adviser Mykhailo Podolyak hinted on the nation’s involvement within the fires, saying in a Telegram put up that “karma (is) a harsh thing.”

— The top of the Worldwide Atomic Power Company, Rafael Grossi, mentioned the protection degree at Europe’s largest nuclear plant, now below Russian occupation in Ukraine, is sort of a “red light blinking” as his group tries in useless to get entry to the Zaporizhzhia energy station for repairs.

— Amid rising tensions over fuel, Moscow and Washington carried out a dramatic prisoner trade, buying and selling a Marine veteran jailed in Moscow for a convicted Russian drug trafficker serving a protracted jail sentence within the U.S.

A defiant Putin vowed Russia will obtain its navy objectives, telling parliament, “All of the duties of the particular navy operation we’re conducting within the Donbas and Ukraine, launched on Feb. 24, will likely be unconditionally fulfilled.”

Simone Tagliapietra, senior fellow on the Bruegel assume tank in Brussels, mentioned Russia’s aim in chopping off the circulation of fuel is to “divide and rule” — pit European international locations towards each other as they solid about for vitality.

Whereas Poland will get round 45% of its fuel from Russia, it depends overwhelmingly on coal and mentioned it was effectively ready for the cutoff. It has ample fuel in storage and can quickly profit from two pipelines approaching line, analyst Emily McClain of Rystad Power mentioned.

Bulgaria will get over 90% of its fuel from Russia, but it surely might improve imports from Azerbaijan, and a pipeline connection to Greece is ready to be accomplished later this 12 months.

Dobrin Todorov, a resident of Bulgaria’s capital, Sofia, mentioned the suspension just isn’t a giant drawback.

“Ultimately, the choice between freedom and dignity or gas, the answer is clear, in favor of freedom and dignity,” Todorov mentioned, including {that a} lack of fuel “cannot be compared to the hardship and tribulations that the Ukrainian people are currently suffering.”

Europe just isn’t with out its personal leverage, since it’s paying some $400 million a day to Russia for fuel, cash Putin would lose in a whole cutoff. Russia can, in principle, promote oil elsewhere — to India and China, as an illustration. However it does not have the mandatory pipelines in some circumstances, and it has solely restricted capability to export fuel by ship.

“The transfer that Russia did right this moment is mainly a transfer the place Russia hurts itself,” von der Leyen said.

Gambrell reported from Lviv, Ukraine and Gera reported from Warsaw, Poland. Related Press journalists Jill Lawless in London, Yuras Karmanau in Lviv, David Keyton in Kyiv, Oleksandr Stashevskyi at Chernobyl, Mstyslav Chernov in Kharkiv, and AP employees world wide contributed to this report.

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