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Russia Cuts Off Gas Exports to Finland 05/21 08:55

   

   HELSINKI (AP) -- 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 a likely end to Finland's nearly 50 
years of importing natural gas from Russia.

   The measure taken by the Russian energy giant Gazprom was in line with an 
earlier announcement following Helsinki's refusal to pay for the gas in rubles 
as Russian President Vladimir Putin has demanded European countries do since 
Russia invaded Ukraine on Feb. 24.

   The Finnish state-owned gas company Gasum said that "natural gas supplies to 
Finland under Gasum's supply contract have been cut off" by Russia on Saturday 
morning at 7 a.m. local time (0400 GMT).

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

   After decades of energy cooperation that was seen beneficial for both 
Helsinki -- particularly in the case of inexpensive Russian crude oil -- and 
Moscow, Finland's energy ties with Russia are now all but gone.

   Such a break was easier for Finland than it will be for other European Union 
nations. Natural gas accounts for just some 5% of total energy consumption in 
Finland, a country of 5.5 million. Almost all of that gas comes from Russia, 
and is used mainly by industrial and other companies with only an estimated 
4,000 households relying on gas heating.

   Gasum said it would now supply natural gas to its customers from other 
sources through the undersea Balticconnector gas pipeline running between 
Finland and Estonia and connecting the Finnish and Baltic gas grids.

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

   In an interview Saturday with the Finnish public broadcaster YLE, Vanhanen 
said the decision marks an end of "a hugely important period between Finland, 
the Soviet Union and Russia, not only in energy terms but symbolically."

   "That pipeline is unlikely to ever open again," Vanhanen told YLE, referring 
to the two parallel Russia-Finland natural gas pipelines that were launched in 
1974.

   The first connections from Finland's power grid to the Soviet transmission 
system were also constructed in the 1970s, allowing electricity imports to 
Finland in case additional capacity was needed.

   Vanhanen didn't see Moscow's gas stoppage as a retaliatory step from Russia 
to Finland's bid to join NATO but rather a countermove to Western sanctions 
imposed on Moscow following its invasion of Ukraine.

   "Russia did the same thing with Finland it has done earlier with some other 
countries to maintain its own credibility," Vanhanen said, referring to the 
Kremlin's demands to buy its gas in rubles.

   Finland shares a 1,340-kilometer (830-mile) with Russia, the longest of any 
of the EU's 27 members, and has a conflict-ridden history with its huge eastern 
neighbor.

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

 
 
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