Russia ‘weaponising’ energy supplies – US
The White House has accused Russia of “almost weaponising” its energy supplies to Europe by cutting off Poland and Bulgaria from gas supplies. Political leaders in Warsaw and Sofia decried the Russian “blackmail” as Polish state gas company PGNiG confirmed that Gazprom’s supplies to the country had been halted. Polish President Andrzej Duda said “appropriate legal steps” will be taken against Gazprom, while his deputy foreign minister, Marcin Przydacz, told the BBC that Russia was seeking to “foster divisions” between Western allies. Bulgarian Prime Minister Kiril Petkov said the country was reviewing all of its contracts with Gazprom, including for transit of Russian gas to Serbia and Hungary, emphasising that “one-sided blackmail was not acceptable”.
EU accuses Russia of ‘blackmail’
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen accused Russia of “blackmail” and said the move showed Russia’s “unreliability” as a supplier. Speaking in Brussels, she said Gazprom’s move was “unjustified and unacceptable,” but emphasised that the bloc was “prepared for this scenario”. She added that the EU, along with its international partners, will implement an “immediate, united and coordinated” response. While the EU has been firm that it will not comply with Mr Putin’s demands that payments be made in roubles, Hungary has reached a workaround deal with Gazprom by paying into a euro-denominated account with Gazprombank, a subsidiary of the energy giant, which in turn will deposit the amount in roubles. Russia has refused to say how many other countries have agreed to make payments in this way. Meanwhile, Ukrainian-born Igor Volobuev, vice president of Gazprombank, said he has quit his post and fled to Kyiv to fight for Ukraine. In an interview with the independent Russian news outlet The Insider, he said he “could no longer be in Russia” and that he wants to “wash off” his Russian past.
Russia considers gas and ‘any trade’ as weapons – Zelensky
Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskiy also addressed what he called Russia’s “energy blackmail” against Europe in his nightly national address, saying Russia’s decision shows “no one in Europe can hope to maintain any normal economic cooperation with Russia”. He said Russia considers not only gas, but any trade as a weapon to blackmail Europeans politically. Or to strengthen Russia’s military machine, which sees a united Europe as a target.”
Russia forced by ‘unfriendly steps’ of Western nations
The Kremlin said Russia had been forced into the action by the “unfriendly steps” of Western nations.After Western powers placed financial sanctions on Russia in response to its invasion, President Putin announced that “unfriendly” countries would have to pay for gas in Russian currency. Gazprom said this was why it had suspended supply to Bulgaria and Poland. Russia has warned other EU customers may be cut off from Russian natural gas supplies if they refuse to pay in roubles.
Putin warns of ‘lightning-fast’ military response
President Putin has meanwhile warned that if Western forces intervene in Ukraine, they will face a “lightning-fast” military response. In what is seen as a reference to ballistic missiles and nuclear arms, he told lawmakers in Moscow: “We have all the tools no-one can boast of… we will use them if necessary.” The BBC reports there are signs that Russia’s offensive in Ukraine is not going as smoothly as planned, with one official saying Russian forces are having difficulties overcoming a “staunch Ukrainian resistance”.
G7 must weaken Putin’s military arsenal – UK
Britain is pressing with its allies for President Putin to be so weakened militarily by the war in Ukraine that he can never pose a threat to European security and his forces to entirely leave Ukraine’s territory, with the country reverting to its pre-2014 borders. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss indicated British thinking on settlement terms in her Lord Mayor’s Banquet speech, saying: “We are doubling down. We are going to keep going further and faster to push Russia out of the whole of Ukraine.” She also warned Putin – who she described in her speech as “a desperate rogue operator with no interest in international mores” – that the west will come to the defence of Moldova in the same way as it is defending Ukraine if Russia mounts an attack there, as seems possible.
In other developments…
- United Nations Secretary General António Guterres, has arrived in Ukraine after meeting in Moscow with President Putin and Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov. Guterres will meet with President Zelensky, later today, Thursday.
- The ambassador general for criminal justice, Beth Van Schaack, has told the UN that the United States had received ‘credible information’ on the fact that a Russian military unit would execute Ukrainians who wanted to surrender near Donetsk. According to the CNN, she said the US had also received reports documenting “executions of people with their hands tied, torture and sexual violence against women and girls”.
- A Ukrainian commander in the besieged city of Mariupol said there are more than 600 injured civilians and fighters in the Azovstal steel works. Serhiy Volyna, acting commander of the 36th marine brigade, said hundreds of civilians, including children, were living in unsanitary conditions and running out of food and water. Officials earlier said Russian forces were again attacking the huge steel plant.
- The interior ministry of Moldova’s breakaway region of Transnistria issued a statement claiming it came under attack from Ukraine. It said drones were spotted and shots were fired near Kolbasna, which it claims contains one of the largest ammunition dumps in Europe.
- A former head of the Polish army has accused British Prime Minister Boris Johnson of “tempting evil” by revealing that Ukrainian soldiers were being trained in Poland in how to use British anti-aircraft missiles before returning with them to Ukraine. Gen. Waldemar Skrzypczak complained that a loose-lipped PM risked the safety of the soldiers involved.
- Belarus has moved to make attempted acts of terrorism punishable by the death penalty after activists tried to sabotage parts of the railway network to make it harder for Russia to deploy forces into Ukraine for its invasion.
- The European Commission has proposed suspending import duties on all Ukrainian products to help the country’s economy during the war with Russia.
- Within the week the EU is aiming for the final OK to the sixth package of sanctions which would also include the gradual stop to Russian oil. The Commission’s lineup is to be defined but, European sources explain, it is possible that on Saturday Brussels will present its proposal to the ambassadors of the 27, giving the European chancelleries time to study the measures. The extraordinary council of energy ministers is scheduled for Monday.
- The US government is providing $670m in food assistance to combat food insecurity due to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Il Volo to host May 12 Eurovision semifinal
Il Volo members Gianluca Ginoble, Ignazio Boschetto and Piero Barone will host the second semifinal of the Eurovision Song Contest, on May 12, in Turin. Seven years ago, after the victory at the Sanremo Festival with ‘Grande Amore’, they represented Italy in front of 200 million spectators.
Champions League: Liverpool have first-leg lead
Liverpool are in the driving seat of their Champions League semi-final against Villarreal after a 2-0 win at Anfield on Wednesday. The game came to life in the second half as an own goal from Pervis Estupinan and a Sadio Mane strike sealed a strong first-leg advantage for the Reds. Vuillarreal defended resolutely for much of the game, managing to get to half-time goalless, but they were ultimately undone by some typically fast attacking from Jurgen Klopp’s team in the second half.