Putin denounces pressure on Gazprom in Europe and threatens reprisals

Russian President Vladimir Putin. (Photo: Getty Images)

This text brings together all the reactions since the invasion of Russia in Ukraine for the day of March 29, 2022. It will be updated during the day. To find all our coverage on the conflict, it’s here.

9:55 am | MOSCOW — Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday denounced the “pressure” exerted against Gazprom in Europe, stressing that nationalizing Russian assets was “a double-edged sword”.

“The situation in the energy field is worsening because of crude measures, which are not linked to the market, in particular the administrative pressure on our company Gazprom in several European countries”, he said on television, during a a meeting devoted to the agricultural sector.

“We are already hearing statements from official figures about the nationalization of some of our assets. We can go far like that. Let no one forget that this is a double-edged sword,” added Mr. Putin.

These comments come as Germany announced the day before taking temporary control of a German subsidiary of the gas giant, Gazprom Germania, in order to ensure the sustainability of gas supplies.

This decision came after the Russian group announced Friday its “withdrawal” from this subsidiary, without immediately indicating a buyer, creating a blur on the future of the company.

Gazprom’s subsidiaries are the operators of major gas and fuel storage infrastructures in Germany. Gazprom Germania in turn has several subsidiaries in the United Kingdom, Switzerland and the Czech Republic.

Russia and European countries are closely linked by their energy interdependence: Moscow needs its gas manna, when the EU is very dependent on Russian hydrocarbons.

This relationship has been under increasing pressure since the Russian offensive in Ukraine and the sanctions that hit Russia’s economy.

The EU says it seeks to reduce its dependence on Moscow, but in the meantime is reluctant to hit Russia’s energy sector with sanctions.

Moscow has for its part said to impose on European customers to pay their gas bills in rubles, even if in practice the billing is always in euros or dollars.

The Kremlin has also repeatedly stressed that Russia is a reliable exporter of hydrocarbons, and that supplies have not been affected either by the conflict in Ukraine or by the sanctions.

Ukraine: Brussels wants to ban Russian coal and close EU ports to Russian ships

9:53 am | Strasbourg — The European Commission proposed on Tuesday to the Twenty-Seven to toughen the sanctions against Moscow, by stopping their purchases of Russian coal, which represent 45% of EU imports, and by closing European ports to Russian ships or those operated by of the Russians.

The four rounds of European sanctions against Moscow since February “have hit hard and limited the political and economic options of the Kremlin”, but after the discovery of a large number of bodies in the Kyiv region, “there is clearly a need to increase our pressure even further “, Estimated the president of the European executive, Ursula von der Leyen, in a video posted online.

The Brussels proposals are to be discussed by representatives of the Twenty-Seven on Wednesday before a meeting of European foreign ministers on Monday. Sanctions require unanimity. Finance ministers meeting in Luxembourg also discussed the new sanctions package.

The Commission proposes “to ban all coal imports from Russia, worth 4 billion euros a year”, said Ms von der Leyen.

Several experts, including those from the Bruegel Institute, consider it easier for the EU-27 to replace Russian coal with other sources of supply, unlike oil (25% of European purchases) or gas (45% of imports of the EU), the possible embargo of which is the subject of bitter discussions between the Member States.

“We are working on additional sanctions, in particular on oil imports”, however affirmed Ursula von der Leyen.

Brussels is also proposing to toughen existing financial sanctions, with a total ban on transactions with four major banks representing a quarter of the Russian banking sector, including VTB, the country’s second largest institution.

The EU has already deprived seven Russian banks of access to the Swift international financial system.

The Commission also wants boats controlled or operated by Russian entities or individuals to be banned from European ports, with “exemptions covering essential products, including agricultural and food, humanitarian aid as well as the energy sector” .

It also proposes to ban Russian and Belarusian road transport operators from the EU, in order to “significantly limit the possibilities for Russian industry to obtain essential components”, indicated Ms von der Leyen.

Brussels also intends to ban 10 billion euros in exports of crucial industrial equipment and components to Russia, such as advanced semiconductors or quantum computers.

The EU executive also wants to expand the list of Russian products banned from being imported into the EU, “from wood to cement and seafood to alcohol”, in order to “stop the flow of money from Russia and of its oligarchs”, for an estimated value of 5.5 billion euros per year as well as blocking the access of Russian companies to public procurement in the EU.

Finally, the blacklist of Russians and Belarusians whose assets in the EU are seized, which currently targets 877 people and 62 entities, would be extended to “dozens of people”, active in particular “in politics, business and propaganda”, according to the head of EU diplomacy, Josep Borrell.

The “atrocities” against “civilian populations” in Ukraine “cannot, and will not, go unpunished”, promised Ms. von der Leyen.

Washington prohibits Russia from paying its debt with dollars held in US banks

8:49 am | WASHINGTON — The United States will no longer allow Russia to repay its debt with dollars held in U.S. banks starting Tuesday, ratcheting up pressure and raising the risk of a Russian default.

Moscow “must choose between emptying its remaining dollar reserves or (using) new incoming revenue, or defaulting,” a US Treasury spokesman told AFP.

Washington is taking this step as “today is the deadline for Russia to make another debt payment,” the ministry said.

The Treasury specifies that “this will further drain the resources that Putin uses to continue his war against Ukraine and will cause more uncertainty and challenges for the Russian financial system”.

The leaders of the G7 countries and the European Union took new measures on March 24 to continue to prevent the Russian Central Bank from using its international reserves, including gold, to block the financing of the war.

“Among the more than 700 sanctions we have imposed, one of the most powerful actions has been our sanctions against the Central Bank of Russia,” said the Treasury spokesman.

Already earlier, Western sanctions taken in retaliation for the Russian invasion of Ukraine had frozen the portion of Russian reserves held abroad, around 300 billion dollars.

These sanctions raise fears that Moscow will no longer be able to reimburse and is therefore threatened with default.

Western sanctions crippled part of the country’s banking and financial system and caused a collapse of the rouble. A payment default cuts a state off from the financial markets and jeopardizes its return for years.

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