Russia cut off gas exports to neighboring Finland on Saturday, a highly symbolic move just days after the Nordic country announced its intention to join NATO and marked the possible end of nearly 50 years of natural gas imports from Russia to Finland.
The move by Russian power giant Gazprom was in line with an earlier announcement following Helsinki’s refusal to pay for rubles in gas, as Russian President Vladimir Putin has been urging European countries to do the same since Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24.
Gasum, a Finnish state-owned gas company, said “natural gas supplies to Finland have been cut off under the Gasum supply agreement” at 8:00 a.m. Russian time (0400 GMT).
The announcement follows Moscow’s earlier decision to cut off electricity exports to Finland earlier this month and the Finnish state-controlled oil company Nest’s earlier decision to replace Russian crude oil imports with crude oil from elsewhere.
After decades of energy cooperation that was seen as beneficial to both Helsinki – especially in the case of cheap Russian crude oil – and Moscow, Finland’s energy ties with Russia are now over.
Such a break was easier for Finland than for other EU countries. Natural gas accounts for only five percent of total energy consumption in Finland, a country of 5.5 million.
Almost all gas comes from Russia and is mainly used by industry and other companies where approximately 4,000 households depend on gas for heating.
Gasum said it would now supply natural gas to its customers from other sources through the Baltic-connecting gas pipeline running under the sea between Finland and Estonia, and by connecting the Finnish and Baltic gas grids.
Mattie Vanhanen, a former Finnish prime minister and speaker of the current parliament, said Moscow’s decision to cut off gas almost 50 years after the first delivery from the Soviet Union was “symbolic”.
In an interview with Finnish public broadcaster YLE on Saturday, Vanhanen said the decision “marks the end of a crucial period between Finland, the Soviet Union and Russia, not only in terms of energy, but also symbolically.”
Referring to the two parallel Russia-Finland natural gas pipelines that were launched in 1974, Vanhanen told YLE: “That pipeline is unlikely to open again.”
The first connections to the Soviet transmission system from Finland’s power grid were also made in the 1970s, allowing additional power to be imported into Finland if needed.
Vanhanen did not see Moscow’s gas shutdown as a retaliatory measure against Russia’s bid to join Finland’s NATO, but as a retaliation against Western sanctions imposed on Moscow following the invasion of Ukraine.
“Russia has done the same thing with Finland as it has done with some other countries to maintain its own credibility,” Vanhanen said, referring to the Kremlin’s demand to buy gas in rubles.
Finland shares a 1,340-kilometer border with Russia, the longest of the EU’s 27 members, and has a conflicting history with its vast eastern neighbor.
After losing two wars to the Soviet Union, in World War II, Finland opted for neutrality with stable and pragmatic political and economic relations with Moscow.
Large-scale energy cooperation between the two countries, including nuclear power, was one of the most visible signs of friendly bilateral relations between the two former enemies.