Russia cuts gas exports to Finland in symbolic move

Russia has suspended natural gas exports to neighboring Finland

HELSINKI – Russia halted gas exports to neighboring Finland on Saturday, a highly symbolic move that came just days after the Nordic country announced it wanted to join NATO and marked the likely end of nearly 50 years of natural gas imports. from Russia to Finland.

Finnish state-owned gas company Gasum said that “the supply of natural gas to Finland under the Gasum supply contract has been cut off” by Russia on Saturday morning at 7 am local time (0400 GMT).

The announcement follows Moscow’s decision to cut electricity exports to Finland earlier this month and an earlier decision by Finnish state oil company Neste to replace Russian crude imports with crude from elsewhere.

After decades of energy cooperation that was deemed beneficial for both Helsinki – particularly in the case of cheap Russian crude oil – and Moscow, Finland’s energy ties with Russia are all but extinct.

This break was easier for Finland than for other European Union nations. Natural gas only accounts for about 5% of total energy consumption in Finland, a country of 5.5 million. Almost all of this gas comes from Russia and is mainly used by industrial and other companies, with only about 4,000 homes relying on gas heating.

Gasum said it will now supply natural gas to its customers from other sources through the Balticconnector subsea pipeline that links Finland and Estonia and connects the Finnish and Baltic gas networks.

Matti Vanhanen, a former Finnish prime minister and current speaker of parliament, said the effect of Moscow’s decision to cut gas after nearly 50 years since the start of the first deliveries from the Soviet Union is above all symbolic.

In an interview on Saturday with Finnish public broadcaster YLE, Vanhanen said the decision marks the end of “an extremely important period between Finland, the Soviet Union and Russia, not just in terms of energy, but symbolically”.

“This pipeline is unlikely to open again,” Vanhanen told YLE, referring to the two parallel Russia-Finland gas pipelines that were launched in 1974.

The first connections from Finland’s electricity grid to the Soviet transmission system were also built in the 1970s, allowing for the import of electricity into Finland if additional capacity was needed.

Vanhanen did not see the Moscow gas shutdown as a retaliatory step by Russia for Finland’s bid to join NATO, but rather a counter-attack to Western sanctions imposed on Moscow after its invasion of Ukraine.

“Russia has done with Finland the same thing it has done with some other countries before to maintain its own credibility,” Vanhanen said, referring to the Kremlin’s demands to buy its gas in rubles.

Finland shares 1,340 kilometers (830 miles) with Russia, the longest of any of the 27 EU members, and has a history of conflict with its massive eastern neighbour.

After losing two wars to the Soviet Union, in World War II, Finland opted for neutrality with stable and pragmatic political and economic ties to Moscow. Large-scale energy cooperation, including nuclear energy as well, between the two countries was one of the most visible signs of friendly bilateral ties between former enemies.

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