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Russia cuts off gas flow to Latvia

By Maham Javaid


Latvia became the latest in a string of European countries to be cut off from its supply of Russian natural gas Saturday, as Moscow continued to signal its ability to use its control over gas supplies for leverage in its conflict with many European nations over Ukraine.


Gazprom, the Russian energy giant, turned off the taps after accusing Latvia of violating supply conditions, without stating exactly which condition was violated.


The decision came a day after Latvijas Gaze, a Latvian energy firm, announced that it would purchase gas from Russia in euros, rejecting Moscow’s demand that it be paid in rubles. Latvia said Gazprom’s decision would not immediately affect gas supplies.


Gazprom’s move to halt gas deliveries also came two days after the Latvian defense ministry and government agreed to provide additional military assistance to Ukraine. The details of the assistance have not been announced. Latvia, a member of NATO, has already provided Ukraine with more than $200 million in military support.


Russia’s control over much of Europe’s gas supply has loomed over the European Union as it has imposed stiff economic sanctions on Russia and has pumped military aid into Ukraine.


Russia has already cut off gas supplies to Poland, Bulgaria, Finland, the Netherlands and Denmark, after they refused to meet President Vladimir Putin’s demand to pay for the fuel through ruble accounts set up in Russian banks.


The EU has braced for Russia to halt deliveries this winter. This past week, the bloc’s members approved a voluntary conservation plan to cut consumption by 15% by next year. European leaders agreed to make the plan mandatory if the Kremlin suddenly decides to turn off the taps.


Russia’s state-owned gas monopoly this past week reduced its flow of gas to Germany to 20% of its pipeline’s capacity. Although the move came after a maintenance shutdown, it was widely read as another attempt by Putin to show he could use the supply of fuel as a weapon.


As gas prices rise across Europe, towns and cities are finding ways to help citizens shave energy usage. Augsburg, Germany, is resorting to cold showers and shutting down fountains, Barcelona is offering home efficiency assessments, and in eastern France, villages are turning off streetlights at midnight.

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