Russia bars top EU officials from entering country

Erdogan says Turkey is ready in principle to act as Ukraine's guarantor • Putin says Russia will enforce rouble payments for gas from Friday

 French President Emmanuel Macron and Russian President Vladimir Putin give a press conference after a summit on Ukraine at the Elysee Palace in Paris, December 9, 2019 (photo credit: VIA REUTERS)
French President Emmanuel Macron and Russian President Vladimir Putin give a press conference after a summit on Ukraine at the Elysee Palace in Paris, December 9, 2019
(photo credit: VIA REUTERS)

Russia said on Thursday it had barred the European Union's top leadership from entering the country in response to what it described as anti-Russian policies.

Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Thursday that he had signed a decree saying foreign buyers must pay in roubles for Russian gas from April 1, and contracts would be halted if these payments were not made.

"In order to purchase Russian natural gas, they must open rouble accounts in Russian banks. It is from these accounts that payments will be made for gas delivered starting from tomorrow," Putin said in televised remarks.

"If such payments are not made, we will consider this a default on the part of buyers, with all the ensuing consequences. Nobody sells us anything for free, and we are not going to do charity either - that is, existing contracts will be stopped."

Russia supplies about a third of Europe's gas, so energy is the most powerful lever at Putin's disposal as he tries to hit back against sweeping Western sanctions over his invasion of Ukraine.

Berlin said it would continue paying for Russian energy imports in euros, Germany will continue paying for energy imports from Russia in euros, the country's finance minister, Christian Lindner, said on Thursday, adding that Berlin would now look into the technical details linked to Moscow's latest decree requiring to pay for gas in roubles.

Speaking at a joint news conference with French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire, Lindner said that the two countries agreed that there could be "no political blackmail" linked to the question of gas imports.

His decision to enforce rouble payments has boosted the Russian currency, which fell to historic lows after the Feb. 24 invasion but has since recovered.

Western companies and governments have rejected the move as a breach of existing contracts, which are set in euros or dollars. France's economy minister said France and Germany were preparing for a possible scenario that Russian gas flows could be halted - something that would plunge Europe into a full-blown energy crisis.

An order signed by Putin set out a mechanism for buyers to transfer foreign currency to a special account at a Russian bank, which would then send roubles back to the foreign buyer to make payment for the gas.

He said the switch was meant to strengthen Russia's sovereignty, and it would stick to its obligations on all contracts.


Turkey is ready, in principle, to act as a guarantor country for Ukraine, but the details of such a format need to be worked out, President Tayyip Erdogan was cited as saying on Thursday, adding Moscow's decision to scale back some of its operations near Kyiv and Chernihiv was "truly important."

NATO member Turkey shares a maritime border with Ukraine and Russia in the Black Sea, has good ties with both and has offered to mediate the conflict. It has supported Kyiv while opposing sanctions on Moscow, and this week hosted negotiators from both sides for the first face-to-face peace talks in weeks.

Speaking on a flight from Uzbekistan, Erdogan said the talks in Istanbul, where Ukraine gave Russia a written proposal to end the war, had provided "significant momentum" to the process. He added he would again convey an offer to host Putin and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for talks.

"On the guarantorship matter, we can be one of the guarantor countries ensuring Ukraine's security, we are ready for this in principle, but of course the details of this need to be worked out," broadcaster NTV cited him as saying, referring to an offer from Ukraine for several countries, including Turkey, to act as security guarantors.

 Turkey said on Thursday that Russian oligarch Roman Abramovich, who is sanctioned by European nations over Russia's invasion of Ukraine, was part of the Russian delegation at peace talks in Istanbul this week and is "sincerely" working to end the war.

"Of course, official talks are important, negotiations are important, but public opinion is sensitive, everyone wants to maintain their position, and there are channels that should be kept open between leaders and countries. Here, Abramovich plays a useful role," Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov had said Abramovich was not an official member of the Russian delegation, but acknowledged his presence to "enable certain contacts."