Russia wants to be paid in rubles as the sanctions make the EUR and the USD of little use. They also need a strong ruble to pay for the war and keep their economy afloat amid all the sanctions. Natural gas exports bring in around one billion dollars a day for Russia. It is also an economic and geopolitical weapon for Russia and the Kremlin is using it to secure as many rubles as possible.
In the short to medium-term, the EU will keep buying Russia natural gas since there is no effective alternative as 40% of EU natural gas comes from Russia. With the winter being behind us, there is less need for natural gas by EU households but a large need for the significant manufacturing sectors. “If gas supplies were to be cut off, the German economy would undergo a sharp recession,” said Stefan Kooths, research director for business cycles and growth at the Kiel Institute. Meanwhile, the CEO of German chemical giant BASF has gone on record saying that replacing Russian gas would take 4-5 years and that a reduction of gas volumes by more than half could lead to shutdowns at Ludwigshafen, the world’s biggest chemicals plant.
While the EU needs Russian gas, they don’t want to pay in rubles. As such, the scheme currently used by some EU companies (described above) could be the best way for the EU to save face and not fall afoul of the law. But this solution also has some shortcomings: 1/ They remain reliant on Russian energy; 2/ It keeps the Russian economy in decent shape with its current account surplus at a record high and the ruble trading at a 2-year high against the euro, etc.) and thus enabling them to finance the war; 3/ The euro paid by EU companies is not reinjected into the EU economy. The Kremlin does not want to keep euros and are thus not buying EU sovereigns as they used to do; 4/ There is a risk of split among EU members as some companies are ready to pay in rubles while other countries refuse any compromise – at least for now.