Could Russian gas run out tomorrow? The question is not so illogical, agrees the French Minister of Economy, Bruno Le Maire. “There may be a situation where tomorrow † there will be no more Russian gas,” he acknowledged on March 31 in Berlin during a press conference with his German counterpart Robert Habeck.
From Friday 1er Russia will only supply gas to European Union (EU) countries in April on one condition: countries considered to be “unfriendly” – ie against the invasion of Ukraine by the Russian army – will have to pay their bills in rubles for supplies, rather than in euros or dollars. In case of refusal, “current contracts are terminated”, threatened the Kremlin head in a televised speech on Thursday.
In particular, the move is intended to support the ruble’s exchange rate as the Russian currency collapsed after the first Western sanctions to protest the invasion of Ukraine. The freeze of Russian assets abroad would indeed represent some 300 billion dollars (271 billion euros). Or just under half of the Russian central bank’s reserves.
Gazprombank, a very useful intermediary
In reality, as designed by the Kremlin, the device seems to allow each protagonist to accept their own interpretation of the situation. And rightly so, the Kremlin offers two separate accounts for importing companies. An account to make their payment in their own currency; and another account to convert all that into rubles, through Gazprombank, the banking institution of Russian energy company Gazprom, which has so far escaped EU sanctions. “Nothing really changes for those who receive the Russian gas, who pay for the deliveries. They just get rubles for the amount of foreign currency provided in the contract”Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov assured Thursday.
This appearance of compromise can give rise to paradoxical communication, where everyone tries to keep up appearances. On the one hand, while ensuring that he remains a reliable supplier, Vladimir Putin emphasizes his decree. On the other hand, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz recalls that:“The contracts state that payments are made in euros and sometimes in dollars”. And to add: “I made it clear to the Russian president that it would remain that way. † Companies want to be able to pay in euros and will do so. †
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