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Russia stops gas supplies to Latvia – AFR

Russian energy giant Gazprom suspended gas supplies to Latvia on Saturday amid tensions between Moscow and the West over the Ukraine conflict and sweeping European and US sanctions against Russia.

The statement came a day after Moscow and Kyiv accused each other of bombing a prison housing Ukrainian prisoners of war on Russian-held territory. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said more than 50 had been killed and called the attack a war crime.

“Gazprom today stopped its gas supplies to Latvia due to violations of purchasing conditions,” the company announced via Telegram.

Gazprom drastically cut gas supplies to Europe via the Nord Stream pipeline to around 20 percent of its capacity on Wednesday.

The Russian state-owned company earlier said it would cut supplies to 33 million cubic meters per day – half the amount it has been supplying since operations resumed last week after 10 days of maintenance.

EU states have accused Russia of pressuring supplies in retaliation for Western sanctions over Moscow’s intervention in Ukraine.

Gazprom cited the halted operation of one of the last two operational turbines for the pipeline due to the “technical condition of the engine”.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov has blamed EU sanctions for the limited supply.

“Technical pumping capacities are down, more limited. Why? Because the maintenance of the technical equipment is made extremely difficult by the sanctions decided by Europe,” said Peskow.

“Gazprom has been and remains a reliable guarantor of its obligations … but it cannot guarantee gas pumping if the imported equipment cannot be serviced due to European sanctions,” he said.

– Russian ‘blackmail’ –

The European Union this week, in solidarity with Germany, where the Nord Stream pipeline goes, agreed on a plan to reduce gas consumption and warns against Russian “blackmail”.

Russia’s Defense Ministry on Friday accused Ukraine of attacking a prison on Russian territory with US-supplied long-range missiles in a “egregious provocation” to prevent captured soldiers from surrendering.

Among the dead were Ukrainian forces who surrendered after weeks of fighting Russia’s brutal bombing of the sprawling Azovstal Steel Plant in the port city of Mariupol.

Zelenskyy blamed Russia.

“This was a premeditated Russian war crime, premeditated mass murder of Ukrainian prisoners of war,” Zelenskyy said late Friday in his daily address to the nation. “Over 50 are dead.”

Zelenskyi said an agreement brokered by the United Nations and the International Committee of the Red Cross for the Azovstal fighters to lay down their arms included guarantees for their health and safety and called on those two organizations to step in as guarantors.

Zelenskyy also called on the international community, particularly the United States, to officially declare Russia a state sponsor of terrorism.

“A decision is required, required now,” he said.

In a sign of Washington’s continued support for Kyiv, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken spoke to his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov on Friday for the first time since the conflict began, urging Moscow not to annex any more Ukrainian territory held by Russian forces.

– US Warning –

“It was very important for the Russians to hear directly from us that this will not be accepted — and not only will it not be accepted, it will impose significant additional costs on Russia if it goes through,” Blinken told reporters in Washington.

Zelenskyy visited a port in southern Ukraine on Friday to oversee a ship carrying grain under a UN-backed plan aimed at bringing millions of tons of Ukrainian grain stranded by Russia’s naval blockade to the world market loaded for export.

The Ukrainian Presidency released footage of Zelenskyy standing in front of the Turkish ship Polarnet in the port of Chornomorsk to inspect the loading of grain. The Ukrainian presidency said exports could start in the “coming days”.

In another development, S&P Global Ratings on Friday cut Ukraine’s long-term credit rating by three notches, saying a recently announced payment deferral plan means a default is “a virtual certainty.”

A group of Western countries last week gave the green light to Kiev’s request to defer interest payments on its debt and urged other creditors to do the same.

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