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Russia halts gas flow to Finland

THE STANDARD
May 21st 2022
A model of the natural gas pipeline is seen in front of displayed Finnish and Russian flag colours in this illustration taken April 26, 2022. [Reuters]

Russia stopped delivering gas to Finland in an escalation of a dispute over energy payments with Western nations and claimed victory in a weeks-long battle for Mariupol's devastated Azovstal steel plant as it presses for control of the Donbas.

Russia also launched what appeared to be a major assault to seize the last remaining Ukrainian-held territory in Luhansk, one of two provinces that make up the southeastern Donbas region: where Russian-backed separatists already controlled swathes of territory before the Feb. 24 invasion.

Russia's Gazprom GAZP.MM halted gas exports to neighbouring Finland on Saturday after it refused to agree to Russian demands to pay for Russian gas supplies in roubles because of Western sanctions imposed over the invasion of Ukraine. 

The move comes days after Finland and Sweden decided to apply to join the NATO military alliance, a decision spurred by the Ukraine war.

Finnish state-owned gas wholesaler Gasum, the Finnish government and individual gas-consuming companies in Finland have said they were prepared for a shutdown of Russian flows and that the country will manage without.

Most European supply contracts are denominated in euros or dollars and Moscow cut off gas to Bulgaria and Poland last month after they refused to comply with the new payment terms.

In addition to trying to isolate Russia through sanctions, Western nations have stepped up weapons supplies to Ukraine since the invasion.

Kyiv got another huge boost on Saturday when U.S. President Joe Biden signed a bill to provide nearly $40 billion in military, economic and humanitarian aid to the country.

Moscow says Western arms deliveries for Kyiv, and the imposition of drastic sanctions amount to a "proxy war" by the United States and its allies.

The Russian military said on Saturday it had destroyed a major consignment of Western arms in Ukraine's Zhytomyr region, west of Kyiv, using sea-launched Kalibr cruise missiles.

Reuters could not independently verify the report, which also said Russian missiles had struck fuel storage facilities near Odesa on the Black Sea coast and shot down two Ukrainian Su-25 aircraft and 14 drones.

Putin says Russian troops are engaged in a "special military operation" to demilitarise Ukraine and rid it of radical anti-Russian nationalists. Western countries call it an unprovoked war of aggression.

Thousands of people in Ukraine have been killed and urban areas have been shattered in the war. Almost a third of Ukraine's people have fled their homes, including more than 6 million who have left the country.

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