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Italy and the payment of Russian gas in rubles

The government has asked for a clarification from the European Commission to understand whether or not it constitutes a breach of contracts

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On Monday evening, during the press conference to present the so-called “Aid Decree”, Prime Minister Mario Draghi returned to talk about the issue of paying for Russian gas, which in recent weeks has become the subject of great discussions both within the government Italian and between the various countries of the European Union. As he had already done recently, Draghi reiterated that the position in this regard must be decided together with the other European countries, and that for this reason he asked for clarification from the European Commission.

Despite this, the issue of energy supplies is creating considerable controversy: the European Union is accused of financing the Russian war effort by buying gas, and again on Tuesday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called on Europe to take “clear measures to block Russian energy revenues “. Furthermore, if Europe decides to pay for energy supplies in rubles as requested by the Russian regime, it would also risk jeopardizing the solidity of the economic sanctions against Russia.

For this reason, according to Draghi, a legal clarification is necessary: ​​the recent Russian decree that obliges the state bank Gazprombank to convert all payments received into rubles has created a “gray zone” in which it is not possible to say with certainty whether there is whether or not it was a breach of contracts by European buyers.

In the press conference Draghi said that the Italian government will follow European guidelines and that “there is no distinction of Italy from other countries”, but he also added that it is “very important that the Commission expresses a clear legal opinion on the fact. whether the payment in rubles constitutes circumvention of the penalties or not. This is the only way to keep us all united, if there is no line of conduct it is clear that every company or country will do as it sees fit ”.

Moreover, before the conference, an opening by Italy to payment in rubles seemed to have come from the Minister for Ecological Transition, Roberto Cingolani, who on Monday in an interview with Politico  had said: “I think it would be good for a few months, at least, allow companies to go ahead and pay in rubles, while we understand the legal framework and the implications. ‘ In the press conference on Monday, however, Cingolani denied having said that sentence, and argued that the content of the article did not correspond to his thought of him. However, he did so by reading a passage in the article in which the Russian decree was spoken generically, and not the exact quotation marks with his words.

Discussions on gas payments in rubles began when Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a decree in late March that obliged Gazprombank to convert all payments received for gas from “hostile” countries, ie all Western countries, into rubles.

The decree was a way to circumvent the sanctions imposed on Russia after the invasion of Ukraine and try to revive the Russian economy, but above all a device that would allow Western countries to continue paying for Russian gas in euros or dollars and the same time for Russia to receive the equivalent in rubles. Technically, with the new payment system provided for by the decree, buyers (i.e. European countries) could continue to pay euros or dollars to Gazprombank and receive gas in exchange, but only by opening a second account with the bank, where the institution would transfer the money. converting it into rubles, and then passing it on to your account: in this way, in fact, payments to Gazprom would result in rubles, even with initial payments in euros or dollars.

But this compromise solution is considered by many experts to be equivocal and could constitute a breach of contracts. Although Gazprombank would take care of the conversion of payments into rubles, thus excluding direct participation of foreign buyers in the operation, the Russian decree provides that the payment is considered finished only at the time of conversion into rubles and not before. In this sense, the buyer should be considered involved until the last step.

The European Commission in recent days had already expressed an opinion on the payment in rubles, in fact approving the double account scheme, but it had been considered confusing and insufficient by various countries which, like Italy, are asking for clearer indications on what to do. in the coming weeks, when the payment deadlines arrive.

To make the situation more confusing is the fact that various European energy companies are moving on their own: according to rumors published by Bloomberg in recent days, for example, the Italian Eni would also be ready to open a ruble account at Gazprombank , to follow the payment system requested by the Russian regime.

Draghi’s statements in Monday’s press conference came after Gazprom, the Russian state-owned energy company, announced in recent days that it had stopped supplying natural gas to Poland and Bulgaria, following their refusal to pay in rubles as requested by the Russian government. Poland and Bulgaria were not the only countries that refused to pay in rubles, but they were the first to pay for the expiring gas.

For other countries, including Italy, the next payments for Russian gas imports will have to be made by the end of May, and therefore Draghi is asking the European Commission to take a decision as soon as possible, in order to prevent the various countries act autonomously.

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