EU calls for rationing natural gas, says Russia ‘blackmailing us’

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The European Union is urging its member states to consider reducing their gas use by 15% in the months ahead as the bloc prepares for the possibility of Russia cutting off natural gas supplies during the winter. 

"Russia is blackmailing us. Russia is using energy as a weapon. And therefore, in any event, whether it's a partial major cutoff of Russian gas or total cutoff of Russian gas, Europe needs to be ready," Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said during a media conference Wednesday. 

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, left, and European Commissioner for European Green Deal Frans Timmermans address a media conference at EU headquarters in Brussels on Wednesday, July 20, 2022.  (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo / AP Newsroom)

While the initial cuts would be voluntary, the Commission also asked for the power to impose mandatory reductions across the bloc in the event of an EU-wide emergency caused by what von der Leyen sees as Russian President Vladimir Putin’s deliberate attempt to weaponize gas exports.

"We have to be proactive. We have to prepare for a potential full disruption of Russian gas. And this is a likely scenario. That's what we've seen in the past," von der Leyen said, adding that Kremlin-controlled Gazprom showed scant interest in market forces and instead played a political game to choke off the EU.

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The European Commission signaled that its proposed target of saving 15% on gas use through next March would require EU countries as a whole to triple the rationing achieved to date since the Russian invasion of Ukraine started Feb. 24.

EU economic forecasts last week showed that Russia's war in Ukraine is expected to wreak havoc with economic recovery for the foreseeable future, with lower annual growth and record-high inflation. The disruptions in Russian energy trade threaten to trigger a recession in the bloc just as it is recovering from a pandemic-induced slump

Since Russia invaded Ukraine, the EU has approved bans on Russian coal and most oil to take effect later this year, but it did not include natural gas because the 27-nation bloc depends on gas to power factories, generate electricity and heat homes. Now, von der Leyen is convinced Putin will cut off gas anyway to try to wreak economic and political havoc in Europe this winter.

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"Putin is trying to push us around this winter, and this he will dramatically fail if we stick together," said von der Leyen.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

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