Europe’s oil supplies from Russia were being held to ransom last night as the Kremlin fell into bitter dispute with a former Soviet satellite state.
Moscow abruptly halted millions of barrels of oil destined for the EU via Belarus in an increasingly hostile wrangle with its neighbour.
The move raised further questions over whether Western Europe can trust Mr Putin for its energy supply. Experts said that Russia had a deeply entrenched habit of manipulating oil and gas supplies as a substitute for diplomatic policy.
Russia’s strong-arm tactics have added resonance in Britain, amid persistent speculation that Gazprom, the Kremlin-controlled gas group, will seek to buy Centrica, the British Gas group, which has 16 million gas and electricity customers in the UK. Angela Merkel, the German Chancellor, told The Times last night that Germany will use its six-month EU presidency to improve energy security on the Continent.
In her first interview with a British newspaper she signalled that she would take a harsher line towards Russia than her predecessor, Gerhard Schröder, who is now on the board of a German-Russian consortium constructing a gas pipeline linking Russian gasfields with Western Europe.
Russians turn off Europe’s oil supply