EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said Gazprom is strong- arming customer nations ranging from Estonia to Bulgaria, where it sometimes almost fully controls the gas market, by setting unfair pricing and contract restrictions.
Vestager said she was investigating Gazprom’s sales policies throughout most of the EU’s eastern rim and was focused on three key issues: whether the company is preventing cross-border flows of gas to other EU nations, charging unfairly high prices and demanding to keep control of the pipelines in return for gas.
“It all ends up in one — abuse of dominant position,” she said.
Gazprom immediately dismissed the accusations as “unfounded”. The company said it “strictly adheres to all the norms of the international law and legislation in the countries where Gazprom operates”.
The move comes at a time when the EU has already imposed economic and political sanctions on Russia for its involvement in the violence in eastern Ukraine.
Vestager said politics played no role in her decision to go after the company with strong links to President Vladimir Putin’s Kremlin. Others disagreed.
Almost immediately, Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaite, a staunch opponent of its neighbour Russia, tweeted that “Finally @EU_Commission took on #Gazprom,” adding there was “no future for #Kremlin political& energy blackmail.”
The decision to send an official statement of objections comes after some EU leaders and Moscow reached a peace deal that calmed the conflict in eastern Ukraine, where rebels have fought the Kiev government. The EU has long claimed Putin has been stoking the conflict for Russia’s gain.
Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov stuck to legal, economic arguments, saying that all of Gazprom’s current EU contracts “were signed in strict compliance with the legal regime that was in force in the EU at the time”.
The standoff over Ukraine has forced the 28-nation EU into a sudden rethink of its energy policies.