Ten more European gas buyers have opened accounts in Gazprombank JSC, doubling the total number of clients preparing to pay in rubles for Russian gas as President Vladimir Putin demanded.
A total of twenty European companies have opened accounts, with another 14 clients asking for the paperwork needed to set them up, the person said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss confidential matters. He declined to identify the companies.
European buyers have been struggling for weeks to figure out how they can meet Putin’s order to pay for Russian gas in rubles starting April 1 and not fall afoul of European Union sanctions imposed over Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Under the new mechanism, clients have to open two accounts: one in foreign currency and one in rubles in Gazprombank. After Poland and Bulgaria rejected these terms, Gazprom PJSC halted gas flows to them in late April.
As deadlines for payment for April supplies loom later this month for major West European buyers, Russia has moved to address EU concerns that the payment mechanism may violate sanctions. The person close to Gazprom said the current terms mean that the transaction is effectively completed once the buyer pays foreign currency to Gazprombank, since the subsequent conversion to rubles is automatic and doesn’t involve Russia’s central bank, which is subject to EU sanctions.
The bloc so far hasn’t said whether the Russian changes allay its concerns, but Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said Wednesday companies will be able to pay for gas in rubles without breaching the restrictions.
“Most of the gas importers have already opened their account in rubles with Gazprom,” he told a press conference. He said that Germany’s top gas importer had already paid in rubles. Like Italy, Germany is a massive consumer of Russian gas.
The person close to Gazprom said the number of customers who’ve paid in rubles remains at four, the same as late last month. Payments from other buyers are due later this month, he said.