Ten more European gas buyers have opened accounts with Gazprombank JSC, doubling the total number of customers preparing to pay in rubles for Russian gas, as President Vladimir Putin demanded.
In all, 20 European companies have opened accounts, and a further 14 customers have requested the paperwork needed to set them up, the person said on the condition of anonymity to discuss confidential matters. He declined to identify the companies.
European buyers have been struggling for weeks to figure out how to comply with Putin’s order to pay for Russian gas in rubles from April 1 and not breach European Union sanctions imposed following Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Under the new mechanism, customers are required to open two accounts: one in foreign currency and one in rubles at Gazprombank. After Poland and Bulgaria rejected these terms, Gazprom PJSC stopped gas flows to them at the end of April.
With payment deadlines for April deliveries looming for major Western European buyers later this month, Russia has taken steps to allay EU concerns that the payment mechanism could breach sanctions. The person close to Gazprom said the current conditions mean that the transaction is effectively completed once the buyer pays foreign currency to Gazprombank, as the subsequent conversion to rubles is automatic and the Russian central bank, which is subject to EU sanctions, is not involved.
The bloc has so far not said whether the Russian changes will allay its concerns, but Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi said on Wednesday that companies can pay for gas in rubles without breaking the restrictions.
“Most gas importers have already opened their ruble account with Gazprom,” he told a news conference. He said Germany’s largest gas importer had already paid in rubles. Like Italy, Germany is a major consumer of Russian gas.
The person close to Gazprom said the number of customers who paid in rubles remains four, the same number as at the end of last month. Payments from other buyers are due later this month, he said.