Russia is resuming gas deliveries via a major pipeline to Europe on Thursday, the pipeline operator said, amid fears that Moscow will use its huge energy exports to fight back Western pressure over its invasion of Ukraine.
The resumption of operation of the Nord Stream 1 gas pipeline with reduced capacity after a 10-day maintenance break came after comments by the Russian foreign minister showed that the Kremlin’s goals had expanded during the five-month war.
Sergei Lavrov told state news agency RIA Novosti on Wednesday that Russia’s military “tasks” in Ukraine now extend beyond the eastern region of Donbass.
Mr. Lavrov also said that Moscow’s goals would be further expanded if the West continues to supply Kyiv with long-range weapons such as US-made High Mobility Artillery Rocket Systems (HIMARS).
“This means that the geographical challenges will extend even further from the current line,” he said, adding that at the moment, peace talks do not make sense.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov later told RIA Novosti that Moscow was not closing the door to negotiations with Kyiv, despite Lavrov’s comments.
“Europe must be ready”
Concerns that Russian gas supplies through Europe’s largest pipeline could be halted by Moscow prompted the European Union on Wednesday to require member countries to cut gas consumption by 15% through March as an emergency measure.
“Russia is blackmailing us. Russia is using energy as a weapon,” European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said, calling a complete cessation of Russian gas supplies “a likely scenario” for which “Europe must be prepared.”
Russian President Vladimir Putin earlier warned that gas supplies via Nord Stream risked further declines.
Russia, the world’s largest gas exporter, has dismissed Western accusations of using its energy resources as a coercive tool, saying it is a reliable energy supplier.
As for oil, Russia will not supply it to the world market if a price ceiling is set below cost, Interfax reported on Wednesday, citing Deputy Prime Minister Alexander Novak.
At the front, the Ukrainian military has reported heavy and sometimes deadly Russian shelling amid what they say are mostly failed offensive attempts by Russian ground forces.
In the previous 24 hours, Ukrainian forces said they had destroyed 17 vehicles, including armored vehicles, and also killed more than 100 Russian soldiers in the south and east.
The Russian-installed administration of Ukraine’s partly occupied Zaporozhye region said Ukraine had launched a drone strike on the nuclear power plant there, but the reactor had not been damaged.
Numerous explosions were also heard in the Russian-controlled southern region of Kherson during the night and Thursday, according to the Russian news agency TASS.
Reuters was unable to independently verify these reports.
The Russian invasion has resulted in thousands of deaths, millions of displaced people and the destruction of cities, especially in Russian-speaking areas in eastern and southeastern Ukraine. It has also driven up global energy and food prices and heightened fears of starvation in poorer countries, as Ukraine and Russia are major grain producers.
The United States estimates that Russian casualties in Ukraine to date have reached about 15,000 killed and possibly 45,000 wounded, CIA Director William Burns said Wednesday.
Russia classifies military deaths as a state secret, even in peacetime, and did not update its official casualty figures often during the war.
USA against annexation
The United States, which said on Tuesday it sees signs that Russia is preparing to formally annex territory it seized in Ukraine, has vowed to oppose annexation.
“Again, we have made it clear that annexation by force would be a flagrant violation of the UN Charter, and we will not allow it to go unpunished,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said at a news conference. regular daily briefing on Wednesday.
Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and maintains Russian-speaking breakaway entities—the Donetsk and Lugansk People’s Republics (DNR and LNR)—in those provinces, collectively known as the Donbass.
Mr. Lavrov is the most senior figure to speak openly about Russia’s military goals in territorial terms, almost five months after Mr. Putin ordered an invasion on February 24, while denying that Russia intended to occupy its neighbor.
Mr. Putin then declared that his goal was the demilitarization and “denazification” of Ukraine, a statement rejected by Kyiv and the West as a pretext for an imperialist war of expansion.
Mr. Lavrov told RIA Novosti that geographic realities have changed since Russian and Ukrainian negotiators held peace talks in Turkey in late March that did not lead to any breakthrough.
“Now the geography is different, it’s not only the DPR and LPR, it’s also the Kherson and Zaporozhye regions and a number of other territories,” he said, referring to territories far beyond the Donbass, completely or partially captured by Russian troops.