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Before the war in Ukraine, Russian natural gas accounted for 55% of Germany’s natural gas imports. It has succeeded in reducing this proportion to 35% since the start of the conflict, but assures that it cannot completely get rid of Russian gas, otherwise it could fall into recession.

The German energy company Uniper therefore announced on Thursday that it will continue to source Russian natural gas, but that it believes it can do so while respecting the sanctions of theEU and Germany’s commitments.

Austria and Hungary are in the same situation, while Italy, also heavily dependent on Russian gas, has not yet taken a decision and is asking for clarification on possible violations of the sanctions of theEU.

Why would buying Russian gas violate EU sanctions?

To respond to the sanctions of Western countries – which wish to penalize Moscow for having invaded Ukraine on February 24 and for waging a violent war there – Russia is demanding that certain countries judged hostile to pay in rubles for their supply of natural gas.

To do this, European buyers must necessarily open two bank accounts with Gazprombank, a private Russian bank fully controlled by the Russian energy giant Gazprom. The first account allows them to deposit euros or dollars, which are then converted into rubles by Gazprombank. These rubles are then deposited in the second account and finally transferred to the Gazprom company.

The payment is considered completed only when the conversion into rubles is made, according to the Russian decree. The problem is that the conversion of euros or dollars into rubles must go through the Russian central bank, which is subject to sanctions from the European Union.

This is a clear circumvention of sanctions said a senior official of theEU.

Gazprom basins in the snow.

Gazprom is a Russian energy giant that supplies many countries with natural gas.

Photo: Reuters/MAXIM SHEMETOV

Is it possible to buy Russian gas without violating EU sanctions?

Member countries do not agree on this issue, while even the leaders of theEU have not been able to give a clear answer for the moment.

A senior official said Thursday that if a buyer reports their payments as complete after they were deposited in euros, but before they were converted into roubles, the penalties would be met.

But since Russia only considers payments complete when they are converted into rubles and deposited in Gazprombank’s second account, even this sleight of hand seems complicated.

This is also understood by Poland and Bulgaria, which refused to comply with the russian blackmail and thus saw their supply of natural gas suspended by Moscow.

Poland also believes that countries that agree to pay in rubles should themselves be sanctioned. It is expected that there will be consequences for these countries so that in the end they will stop paying in rubles , said Polish Climate and Environment Minister Anna Moskwa. She did not, however, specify what those consequences should be.

And Poland goes even further. What she wants is for the EU to ban Russian gas and oil outright, as the US and UK have already done. It would solve the problem with Gazprom, the problem with the confusion on the sanctions explained Anna Moskwa.

Several other countries, including Denmark, Finland, Greece and Spain are asking theEU to clarify the situation quickly.

With information from Reuters, CNN and the BBC

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Reference-ici.radio-canada.ca

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