Russia has ordered the expulsion of a Dutch journalist — the second deportation of a resident foreign correspondent in the past two months — and has reduced natural gas supplies to energy-starved Europe.
News of the abrupt moves came as American intelligence chief William Burns was concluding a rare two-day visit to Moscow, part of a recent Biden administration effort to try to ease tensions over a range of geopolitical disagreements and to foster a more stable and predictable relationship between Western powers and Russia.
Western nations have imposed a series of sanctions on Russia for its 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula, alleged interference in Western elections, cyberattacks, and the poisoning of Kremlin foes, including former Russian double agent Sergei Skripal and Alexey Navalny, an opposition leader.
American officials have been urging Moscow to cooperate on some specific issues, including strategic nuclear arms reductions and ransomware attacks launched by hackers from Russia targeting Western companies.
Since the start of the week, though, state-controlled energy giant Gazprom has reduced by 25% its natural-gas supply to Ukraine and at one point completely halted supplies via a pipeline snaking through Poland.
Gazprom says the supply requests of customers in Europe were being met and maintains it is meeting all contractual obligations. The Russian energy giant has been accused by the International Energy Agency and European lawmakers, however, of purposely not doing enough to boost natural gas supplies to Europe.
“There is no commercial justification for such behavior,” Sergiy Makogon, head of Gas Transmission System Operator of Ukraine, GTSO, told reporters Wednesday in Kyiv. He and other Kremlin critics charge the reduction in natural gas supplies amounts to clear evidence the Kremlin is using energy as a political weapon and is deliberately deciding to worsen Europe’s energy crunch.
Russia also has reportedly stopped delivering thermal coal to Ukraine and instructed Belarus to stop supplying electricity to neighboring Ukraine.
The reduction in natural gas supplies came as Russia’s foreign ministry informed the Dutch government Wednesday it is deporting Tom Vennink, who has been the Russia-based correspondent of the daily newspaper de Volkskrant since 2015.
Russian authorities revoked Vennink’s residence permit earlier in the week, giving him three days to leave the country, because of two old administrative infractions, according to de Volkskrant. Vennink was fined two years ago for being late to file a routine re-registration with immigration authorities, and last year he was fined for visiting a restricted security area in far northeastern Siberia without prior permission.
Dutch Foreign Minister Ben Knapen described the expulsion as “not acceptable.” “Threats against one journalist have the disturbing effect of silencing many others,” he tweeted. De Volkskrant Editor-in-chief Pieter Klok said it was unusual for Russian authorities to expel a foreign correspondent because of old infractions. “Such administrative offenses were never an obstacle to extending residence permits in previous years,” he said.
In August, Russian authorities deported BBC correspondent Sarah Rainsford, who had been based in Moscow for 20 years, after Moscow accused London of discrimination against Russian journalists working in Britain.
Dutch-Russian relations have been strained since the shooting down in 2014 of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, a scheduled passenger flight from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur. The plane was brought down by a Russian-made surface-to-air missile fired from territory controlled by Moscow-backed separatists in the Donbas region of east Ukraine, killing all 298 people aboard, most of whom were Dutch.
De Volkskrant also noted in its report of Vennink’s expulsion that the deportation came on the heels of an appeals court ruling in the Netherlands awarding to Ukraine ownership of a trove of ancient Crimean artifacts on loan to a Dutch museum when Russia annexed the Ukrainian peninsula.
Midweek, Russians pushed back on U.S. criticism of Russian President Vladimir Putin for not attending the COP26 climate summit in Glasgow. During a press conference Tuesday in Glasgow, U.S. President Joe Biden questioned why Putin — and Chinese leader Xi Jinping — did not show up for the global climate talks. Putin cited coronavirus concerns for his decision not to travel to the summit,
“It just is a gigantic issue and they [Putin and Xi] walked away. How do you do that and claim to be able to have any leadership?” Biden remarked. “[Putin’s] tundra is burning — literally, the tundra is burning. He has serious, serious climate problems, and he is mum on willingness to do anything,” Biden added.
The Kremlin, though, dismissed Biden’s criticism. “We disagree,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters. “We are certainly not minimizing the importance of the event in Glasgow, but Russia’s actions are consistent and thoughtful and serious,” he said. “The tundra really is on fire. But let’s not forget that forests are burning in California, forests are burning in Turkey, and in other countries” he added.
Some information from Agence Presse-France was used in this report.