On March 31, Vladimir Putin signed a decree on the sale of gas to “unfriendly countries” from April for Russian rubles, and not for the euro or another currency that was specified in the contract when it was concluded. Putin said that Western countries that want to buy gas from Gazprom (through pipelines) will have to open special accounts with Gazprombank and pay for gas exclusively from them, and if payment is not made in this way, supplies will be stopped. . French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and the leaders of several other European countries have already stated that they will not accept Russia’s demand to pay for supplies in rubles and intend to pay for gas only in the currency directly specified when concluding contracts. “Contracts concluded in euros must be paid in euros,” Le Maire said in particular.
Should Russia’s demand to pay for gas supplies in rubles be taken seriously, and can Russia “switch off” the pumping of gas through pipelines to Europe? TV channel Present Time asked these questions Lane Mirror, Advisor to the Minister of Energy of Ukraine. In her opinion, Putin’s actions “are very similar to the panic of impotence” and are in fact a departure from the sanctions that were imposed on the Kremlin and the largest Russian banks for the war in Ukraine. “That’s not how contract law works. That’s how it works only in Russia, and it doesn’t happen with foreign partners,” Zerkal noted separately.
– The decree that Putin signed today: tell us your vision of this situation. Why does Putin first say: “Pay in rubles for our gas”, and after the European partners refuse, Putin issues a decree in which he says: “OK, pay in foreign currency, Russian banks themselves will change it to rubles and put it in your ruble accounts “. It is not clear what these ruble accounts are. How do you see this situation?
– I see this situation as some kind of April Fool’s joke, actually. Because it’s all very similar to such a panic of impotence. The leader makes one statement, but realizes that it has not been fulfilled. He immediately takes another step and instructs Gazprom to implement it.
This is a withdrawal from sanctions, this is actually the reaction of the Russian Federation to the sanctions that are already being applied against Russia. These are both financial sanctions and the sanctions that we are now negotiating with the European Union and with individual countries that directly relate to payment for Russian gas supplied.
– And how is this “ruble scheme” connected with the sanctions, excuse me?
– This is a violation of the sanctions regime: opening accounts in banks that are under sanctions.
– That is, if the European partners agree to this scheme and open accounts in rubles, will they violate the sanctions?
– Yes. This would actually be a violation of the sanctions regime.
We, the Ukrainian delegation, have just arrived in Brussels, and we have something to talk about in the sense that Russia is again bluffing that if its demands are not met, then they will not supply gas. Contracts have been signed, and the contracts indicate how they should be calculated.
If one of the parties, in this case Russia and Gazprom, changes or wants to change the terms of the contract, it must notify the other party about this in a certain time, give that party time to react. And the way it’s done now, contract law doesn’t work that way. This is how they work only in Russia, but this does not happen with foreign partners.
– Can Russia simply turn off gas to Europe? They can say: “Here you are not fulfilling our next requirements”?
– I really want to joke about this, that then Russia can roll this gas into banks and store it somewhere in the basements. You can’t just take a well and shut it off, your gas will still flow. They can stop deliveries for a while, as they already did in 2006, 2009. But this interruption can only take place until they fill up the volume in their underground gas storages. And then this gas needs to go somewhere. And it cannot be transported to another country, it cannot be transported to another pipeline. They simply don’t exist.
– Are there many storage facilities in Russia that can be filled up?
– They have storage facilities, they are quite voluminous. But this year it was a warm winter, and before winter they pumped them up to the eyeballs. That is, they can now download no more than 20-30%, probably, according to our calculations. So it can be an interruption of deliveries for 2-3 weeks. Now that the heating season has ended, this will not be noticeable at all for the European market.
– What then changes from April 1? Do you understand it?
– Contracts are not changed by administrative methods. Contracts are agreements between two entities that conduct some kind of business activity between themselves. And they spelled out all the terms of the contract. If the contract changes and the other party does not agree, it has the right to file a case with the Stockholm Arbitration. But while the case is being considered, no one can change the contract, and this is 4-5 years.
– The question is not about Russian gas, but about oil. US President Joe Biden said that the United States of America is increasing the release of oil from reserves in order to reduce the price of gasoline in the US and, among other things, to limit oil sales to Russia. How do you assess such a step by the United States of America?
– This has long been discussed and promised. Russia is now very much drying up the European market by undersupplying oil. And therefore, a lot of processing plants in Europe are now under repair. This is not accidental, it is exactly the same operation as last year was with gas: to dry up the market, to raise prices. And in this regard, there is dependence on Russian oil, panic in the market – that is, all the conditions are being created that are necessary for everyone to continue to buy gas and oil from Russia and pretend that everything is fine.
But this time it doesn’t work anymore. Indeed, the United States did release additional volumes of oil. Moreover, they are increasing deliveries to Europe of other types of goods, which are currently under-delivered by Russia. That is, the economic war also exists.
Will Europe cope? And can she do it without the help of the United States?
– Europe will cope, but not immediately. A certain transitional period is needed in order to reorient all business processes. They are already concerned about this in the same way that they are concerned that new opportunities are opening up in the market, and this market is very attractive. Both Venezuela, Canada and Saudi Arabia are considering the European market as a possible exit in large volumes. And if the embargo is introduced with a suspensive condition for 6-9 months, then I think that Russia will completely lose this market.