Milan / Berlin — Germany and Italy told companies after discussions with the European Union that they could open a ruble account to continue buying Russian gas without violating sanctions against Moscow.
The debate over Russia’s demand for foreign buyers to pay gas in the ruble tested the European government’s determination to take a strong stance against Moscow over the war in Ukraine.
Poland, Bulgaria and Finland have refused to meet Moscow’s request for importers to pay for gas through Gazprombank’s ruble account, reducing its supply.
However, other member states did not want to guide companies into actions that could result in the loss of a significant supply of Russian gas that warms homes and powers factories.
Brussels provided two sets of written guidance on how to buy Russian gas without violating sanctions, but EU officials also at a private meeting to avoid opening a ruble account with Gazprombank. The legal route remains ambiguous as we advised the company.
Some diplomats in Brussels, an EU member state, said they believe the advice to allow countries to open ruble accounts and continue to buy Russian gas is deliberately ambiguous. rice field.
“If you open a ruble account in one country but not in another, you risk undermining the EU’s unity with Russia,” said one diplomat.
“They needed to create a level of creative ambiguity,” said the second diplomat, citing the Commission’s advice. “The purpose of creative ambiguity is to make just enough room for all the different interpretations.”
The Commission refused to comment on the discussion.
A committee spokesman said Thursday that it is “not recommended” for companies to open a ruble account.
A German gas importer told Reuters that Berlin had told him that he could open a ruble account to pay Russian gas without violating sanctions, unless the payment to Gazprombank was in Russian currency.
Germany, Russia’s largest importer of gas in the region, has been working closely with the EU to tackle the issue consistently, sources said.
The Italian government has also talked with the European Commission to clarify how to buy Russian gas legally, government sources told Reuters.
This happened before Italian energy company Eni announced on Tuesday that it had begun the process of opening two accounts, the euro and the ruble, sources said.
“The decision is in line with what was conveyed by the sector,” sources said, referring to the Commission’s energy sector.
Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi said last week that it was a “gray zone” whether compliance with Russia’s payment plans violated sanctions and there was no official decision on the matter.
Draghi’s office declined to comment on Friday.
In written guidance, the EU stated that if a company pays in the currency of an existing contract, it can purchase Russian gas without violating sanctions, and has declared that it will fulfill its contractual obligations.
Most contracts that EU companies have with Gazprom are in euros or dollars.
However, the guidance did not explicitly state that opening a ruble account to convert these payments into Russian currency would be a violation of EU sanctions.
Katja Yafimava, senior researcher at the Oxford Energy Institute, said there was no legal basis to suggest that opening a ruble account violated sanctions.
“There is nothing in the written guidance that prevents buyers from opening such an account. The European Commission’s verbal remarks have created ambiguity, but what is important is the written guidance.” She said.
Governments are responsible for implementing EU sanctions approved by all 27 member states.
Brussels may file proceedings against governments that fail to enforce them, but Member States do not agree to pay for gas.
Poland is seeking clear advice from Brussels on whether a company can open a ruble account.
A spokesperson for the Dutch Ministry of Economy said the Netherlands is lobbying for a clear EU position to “draw a line for the EU as a whole.”
(Report by Markus Wacket, Stephen Jewkes, Giuseppe Fonte, Nina Chestney, Kate Abnett, Toby Sterling, edited by David Clarke)
Germany and Italy approve Russian gas payments after nodding from Brussels-Source
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