The Austrian government has declared a stage-one alert regarding the supply of natural gas, shortly after Germany did the same on Wednesday.
Vienna made the move fearing shortages should Russia insist on payments in rubles, rather than dollars or euro, due to Western sanctions.
The stage-one alert means there are “concrete and reliable indications that the gas supply could deteriorate,” Austria’s Climate Ministry announced, adding that it will be “monitoring” the situation. The country’s reserve tanks currently stand at 13% of capacity, which is about average for the season, local media reported.
“Everything will be done to ensure the gas supply for Austria’s households and businesses,” Chancellor Karl Nehammer said on Wednesday. If disruptions happen, businesses will be encouraged to seek out alternatives, while gas rationing won’t happen until stage three, the government said.
Vienna’s declaration comes hours after Berlin declared the identical stage-one emergency, fearing a possible disruption of natural gas supplies as the clock ticked closer to Russia’s deadline for “unfriendly countries” to start paying in rubles.
Germany and the rest of the EU were designated unfriendly by Moscow over their embargoes on trade, imposed due to Russia’s military attack on Ukraine, last month. If Russia is unable to receive payments for the natural gas shipments in euros or dollars – the US has likewise sanctioned its currency – then it will be rubles or nothing, Moscow has stated.
When EU leaders complained about how this would be breach of contract, Russia responded that their sanctions amounted to as much. Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov made it clear on Tuesday that Russia had no intention of supplying gas to Europe for free.
Germany’s top industrial unions have warned that delivery interruptions could result in “the rapid collapse of the industrial production chains in Europe – with worldwide consequences.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz discussed the problem earlier on Wednesday, with Moscow and Berlin providing somewhat conflicting readouts of their call.
According to the Germans, Putin said payments could still be made to a bank that hasn’t been embargoed, and Scholz asked for written information to better understand the procedure. The Kremlin said that “experts of the two countries would discuss the issue further.”
Moscow sent troops into Ukraine in late February, following a seven-year standoff over Kiev’s failure to implement the terms of the Minsk agreements and end the conflict with the breakaway regions of Donetsk and Lugansk. Russia ended up recognizing the two as independent states, at which point they asked for military aid.
Russia demands that Ukraine officially declare itself a neutral country that will never join the US-led NATO military bloc. Kiev insists the Russian offensive was completely unprovoked and has denied claims it was planning to retake the two Donbass republics by force.
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