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European officials say Russia blocking gas in Poland, Bulgaria 'unjustified' blackmail

European officials say Russia blocking gas in Poland, Bulgaria 'unjustified' blackmail
A gas station of the Russian company Gazprom is seen in Sofia, Bulgaria. Gazprom has completely suspended gas supplies to the Bulgarian company Bulgargaz and Polish company PGNiG over their failure to pay in rubles, Russian officials said. File Photo by Vassil Donev/EPA-EFE

April 27 (UPI) -- In an escalation of its war in Ukraine, Moscow on Wednesday said it's cut off two European nations -- Poland and Bulgaria -- from receiving any Russian-made gas because they have failed to pay for it in rubles.

Officials said the countries, which are part of the European Union, will no longer receive gas produced by state company Gazprom because they haven't paid for it with Russian rubles, which Russian President Vladimir Putin has demanded.

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Poland and Bulgaria have supported Ukraine and opposed Moscow since the fighting began on Feb. 24.

The move signals a new shift in the war and an escalation from Russia by using its greatest economic commodity as leverage. Moscow had previously indicated that it would force other nations to pay for Russian exports in rubles.

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Polish officials said on Tuesday that it had been notified it would not receive further deliveries of natural gas from Russia. The Russian company made the announcement Wednesday and said it also will affect Bulgaria.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen denounced the move.

"The announcement by Gazprom that it is unilaterally stopping delivery of gas to customers in Europe is yet another attempt by Russia to use gas as an instrument of blackmail," Leyen said in a statement. "This is unjustified and unacceptable. It shows once again the unreliability of Russia as a gas supplier."

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British Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab promised that Britain stands "shoulder to shoulder" with Poland and Bulgaria.

"We cannot allow Vladimir Putin's bullying behavior, whether it is economic warfare, or it is military warfare, to succeed," Raab said, according to The Guardian.

Meanwhile, in fighting Wednesday, Ukrainian officials said Russia has taken control of the Zarichne settlement and stormed another in Yampil. Moscow has also continued its attack on the Azovstal steel plant in Mariupol where Ukrainian resistance fighters and civilians have been hunkered down for many days.

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Russia said it's also hit an arms depot in the southern Zaporizhzhia where Ukraine had stored weapons sent from the United States and European allies.

Russian officials said that one of its ammunition depots and two other targets were hit by blasts early Wednesday, in what would be rare attacks inside Russia since the war started. The attacks targeted Belgorod, less than 20 miles from the Ukrainian border, and in Kursk and Voronezh, which are deeper into Russian territory.

The United States said it is also monitoring new tensions in Moldova, where explosions have rocked the breakaway region of Transnistria. The attacks included strikes on a Russian-sympathetic radio center and a security facility.

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Ukrainian officials are accusing Russia of planning a "sham" referendum in Kherson after the Russian military took control and announced new Moscow-backed city government. The referendum is seeking to establish a new breakaway region called the Kherson People's Republic.

Scenes from Ukraine: Destruction, atrocities and mourning

Priest Andrii Gavalin presides over the funeral of Eugene Bogdanov, 35, in Bucha, Ukraine, on May 10. Bogdanov went missing two months ago. His wife, Natalia Bogdanova, was searching for him throughout the Kyiv and Bucha regions when his body was found at a morgue in Belaya Tserkov on May 9. Photo by Ken Cedeno/UPI | License Photo

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