War’s effects widen as Russia cuts gas supplies
By Matina Stevis-Gridneff, Matthew Mpoke Bigg and Shashank Bengali
The reverberations of the war in Ukraine widened Wednesday, jolting energy markets and threatening to spill across borders, as the West’s escalating arms shipments and economic penalties prompted Russia to lash out by cutting off gas supplies to two European nations.
Russia’s state-run gas company, Gazprom, announced that it was suspending shipments of natural gas to Poland and Bulgaria, a move that the European Union’s top official denounced as “blackmail.” Though the immediate economic impact was likely to be limited, it was the Kremlin’s toughest retaliation yet against a U.S.-led alliance that it has accused of backing Ukraine in a proxy war aimed at weakening Russia.
Even as news of a U.S.-Russia prisoner exchange offered a glimmer of hope that tensions with the West could ease, President Vladimir Putin warned Wednesday that he would unleash “counterstrikes” against any adversaries that “create threats of a strategic nature unacceptable to Russia.”
At the same time, a series of explosions across Ukraine’s borders raised the possibility that the war, now in its third month, might spread. Blasts were reported in three Russian border districts Wednesday morning, and while the cause was not immediately known, suspicion fell on Ukrainian forces, which are being supplied with more sophisticated weapons and intelligence from the United States and its allies.
A day earlier, explosions shook a pro-Russian breakaway region of Moldova, on Ukraine’s southwestern flank. Some analysts said it was likely that Russia, which has stationed thousands of troops in the Transnistria region, had staged the blasts as a pretext for further aggression against Ukraine.
In other developments:
— While European officials said they were prepared to weather the near-term impact of Russia’s gas cutoff to Bulgaria and Poland, economists said Europe could face a sharp slowdown of growth if the cutoff spreads to other countries — or if Europe imposes an embargo on Russian gas.
— Russian forces are making slow and measured advances in their offensive in eastern Ukraine, adopting more methodical tactics as they confront entrenched Ukrainian forces, military analysts said.