SENT TO BRUSSELS. There is still chaos in Europe over the payment of Russian gas in rubles. The Commission continues to repeat that the mechanism imposed by the decree signed by Vladimir Putin involves a clear violation of the sanctions, but it is not enough for energy companies. They want clear legal advice to protect themselves from any disputes with Gazprom. And therefore, in the meantime, they are ready to follow the procedure requested by Moscow: to open two current accounts with Gazprombank, one in euros (or in dollars) and one in rubles, leaving the Russian bank to do the conversion into the local currency.
The problem is that there is still no common line. The refusal of the Polish and Bulgarian companies has already cost the two countries the interruption of gas supplies. The Polish Minister of the Environment, Anna Moswka, yesterday launched an appeal to her colleagues during the meeting of the Energy Council: “We must not support Gazprombank and the Russian economy”. Other states are skeptical and lean towards the line of firmness, but for the countries that most depend on Russian gas, the fear of staying dry prevails over everything. According to the information collected in Brussels, among these there would be Austria, Germany, Hungary, Slovakia and according to some sources also France. But above all there is Italy, as confirmed yesterday by Roberto Cingolani (who was not in Brussels because he was busy in Rome for the council of ministers).
The newspaper “Politico Europe” published an article entitled “Italy willing to pay in rubles for Russian gas” with some statements by the Minister for Ecological Transition that go in this direction. The ministry defined the interpretation as “misleading”, but in reality the meaning of his words – as confirmed by his own entourage – is just that: to have legal certainty about the violation of sanctions it could take months, and in the meantime the companies they will adapt to the mechanism provided for by the decree. Paying in euros, but actually paying in rubles. After the clarification of the ministry, Politico changed the title of the article as follows: “Italy willing to pay temporarily in rubles for Russian gas”.
The Commissioner for Energy, Kadri Simson, did not seem very convinced of the Italian arguments: «Last Friday I explained the Commission’s position to Minister Cingolani. Companies that respect the signed contracts have every right to refuse Russia’s unilateral request ”. The point, however, is that the guidelines provided by Brussels are not considered sufficient by the energy companies. Or at least by the energy companies of the countries mentioned above. The Commission writes that the conversion from euro to rubles “could involve” the Russian central bank “and this is prohibited by sanctions”. For companies that buy gas from Gazprom, however, the conditional is not enough. They want to protect themselves from any disputes with a clear legal opinion with which to shield themselves. Commissioner Simson has pledged to provide it in a very short time, before the next deadlines for payments, which will be concentrated between 18 and 25 May. Sources in the EU executive point out, however, that it is up to the national authorities to ensure compliance with the sanctions. A way to throw back the ball of responsibility in the field of governments.
In all this, the risk of an accident leading to an interruption of supplies is always around the corner, which is why yesterday the energy ministers discussed possible emergency plans in the event of a stop in flows from Russia. But a gas embargo is not on the horizon, as the goal remains to reduce purchases by only two thirds by December. Today Ursula von der Leyen will present the sixth package of sanctions which provides for a gradual exit from oil in Moscow, with a view to zeroing by the end of the year. Germany and Austria have given the green light, but Hungary continues to put their foot down. Viktor Orban’s spokesman yesterday reiterated the government’s opposition: exceptions could be granted to overcome the veto in Budapest. The confrontation between the representatives of the 27 is scheduled for tomorrow, but the immediate green light is not at all obvious.