Ukraine has urged its allies to send more weapons as its forces dug in to slow Russia’s military advance through the eastern Donbas region, while a belligerent Moscow warned Western nations of consequences for their reprisals over its invasion.
Signalling that the Kremlin was in no mood for compromise, President Vladimir Putin on Friday said continued sanctions against Russia over the war in Ukraine risked triggering catastrophic energy price rises for consumers around the world.
Addressing leaders of Russia’s oil and gas industry, Putin, who casts the sanctions imposed on Russia as a declaration of economic war, said that Western calls to reduce reliance on Russian energy had made global markets “feverish” with spikes in oil and gas.
European Union customers have said they want to wean themselves off Russian gas while the leaders of the Group of Seven developed economies said last month that they wanted to explore “price caps” on Russian fossil fuel, including oil.
“Sanctions restrictions on Russia cause much more damage to those countries that impose them,” Putin told industry figures including Rosneft Chief Executive Igor Sechin and Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak.
“Further use of sanctions may lead to even more severe – without exaggeration, even catastrophic – consequences on the global energy market.”
Putin’s February 24 invasion of Ukraine and the West’s imposition of the most severe sanctions in modern history have undermined the assumptions of the energy and commodities markets – while crimping global growth.
As Putin grapples with a major war, the biggest geopolitical crisis and the biggest Russian economic challenge since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union, the 69-year-old Kremlin chief has repeatedly signalled he is in no mood to back down.
Energy is one area where the Kremlin still holds sway – and European powers including Germany fear he may be about to cut supplies.
Russia is the world’s second-largest oil exporter after Saudi Arabia, the world’s largest exporter of natural gas and the world’s largest wheat exporter. Europe imports about 40 percent of its gas and 30 percent of its oil from Russia.
With prices already rising, the world is bracing for further supply disruption from Russia: The Nord Stream 1 pipeline under the Baltic, a vital supply route to Germany, is due to undergo maintenance from July 11 to July 21.
Gazprom cut capacity through the pipeline to just 40 percent, citing the delayed return of equipment being serviced by Germany’s Siemens Energy in Canada due to sanctions.
The Caspian Pipeline Consortium (CPC), which carries about 1 percent of global oil, was ordered by a Russian court to suspend operations on Tuesday. Flows continue, but it is unclear for how long.
“We know that the Europeans are trying to replace Russian energy resources,” Putin said. “However, we expect the result of such actions to be an increase in gas prices on the spot market and an increase in the cost of energy resources for end consumers.”
In the last few months, Russia has cut off gas flows to Bulgaria, Poland, Finland, Danish supplier Orsted, Dutch firm Gasterra and Shell for its German contracts, after they all rejected a demand to switch to payments in roubles in response to European sanctions.
Putin said that the West’s economic “blitzkrieg” had failed but admitted damage had been done to the $1.8-trillion economy.
“We should feel confident in ourselves but you should see the risks – the risks are still there,” Putin said.
Ukrainians brace for Russian assault
Meanwhile on the Donbas front lines, Ukrainian officials reported Russian shelling of towns and villages ahead of an anticipated push for more territory.
A Ukrainian infantry unit on the road to the town of Siversk, whose members spoke to the Reuters news agency, had set up positions on the edge of a deep earth bunker covered with logs and sandbags and defended by machine guns.
“Right now, it’s more of our artillery than theirs, so it’s good,” said the unit deputy commander. “But there might be incoming soon.”
Ukrainian officials said they needed more high-grade Western weapons to shore up their defences.
Oleksiy Danilov, secretary of the National Security and Defence Council, said Ukraine still did not have enough Western weapons and soldiers needed time to adapt to using them.
US President Joe Biden signed a new weapons package worth up to $400m for Ukraine on Friday, including four additional High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS) and more ammunition.
At least four people were killed after Russian forces fired rockets in northern Kharkiv and eastern Kramatorsk, local authorities said on Friday, adding that Sloviansk had also come under fire.
In a hawkish speech on Thursday to parliamentary leaders, more than four months into Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine, Putin said that Russia had barely gotten started in terms of its war in Ukraine and dared the West to try to defeat it in warfare.