EU says Russian gas payments possible, advises against rouble accounts -officials

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A 3D printed Natural Gas Pipes are placed on displayed EU and Russian flags in this illustration taken, January 31, 2022. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

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BRUSSELS, May 19 (Reuters) - The European Union's executive told member states this week they can keep buying Russian gas without breaching sanctions imposed on Russia following its invasion of Ukraine, but advised against opening rouble bank accounts to pay for it, EU officials said.

The European Commission gave the advice at a closed-door meeting on Wednesday, according to officials with knowledge of the matter.

Companies in the European Union have been scrambling to confirm how to keep buying Russian gas, after Moscow demanded foreign buyers start paying in roubles and cut gas supplies to Poland and Bulgaria for refusing to do so.

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At the meeting of EU envoys, the Commission repeated its stance that companies can keep buying Russian gas without breaching sanctions, if they pay in the currency of their existing contracts and declare that doing this fulfils their contract obligations, the EU officials said.

The Commission did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Most EU companies' contracts with Russian gas giant Gazprom (GAZP.MM) are in euros or dollars.

The Commission said it did not have a more conclusive position on whether companies can open rouble accounts at Gazprombank (GZPRI.MM) to do this, but advised companies against it, the officials said.

Poland had asked in the meeting for clearer advice on whether rouble accounts were allowed, after a Commission spokesman said on Tuesday that opening accounts in roubles at a Russian bank to pay for gas would go beyond what Brussels had said was allowed within the sanctions regime. read more

The EU has shared two pieces of written guidance with countries, but neither explicitly said opening rouble accounts would breach EU sanctions against Moscow for its invasion of Ukraine.

That has left some companies struggling to understand whether they can open these accounts to keep buying gas. Russia has said foreign companies need two accounts to comply with its new payment mechanism - one for foreign currency, and one for roubles.

EU countries are responsible for enforcing the bloc's sanctions - which were approved unanimously by the 27 member states. Brussels could launch legal action against a government that failed to enforce them.

The European Commission on Wednesday unveiled a plan for Europe to end its reliance on Russian fossil fuels by 2027, which it said would require 210 billion euro ($220.44 billion) in investments. read more

($1 = 0.9527 euros)

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Reporting by Kate Abnett, additional reporting by Gabriela Baczynska; Editing by Susan Fenton

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