BRUSSELS - The EU on Thursday settled a high-stakes anti-trust case against Gazprom, the Kremlin-backed energy giant, over claims it abused its dominant positon as a gas provider in eastern Europe member states.
The deal comes after Gazprom agreed to benchmark prices in eastern Europe against prices in the rest of Europe, and to drop clauses restricting the re-export of gas by clients.
With the deal Gazprom avoids billions in fines and offers a rare respite to tensions between the Russia and West that have worsened over Ukraine, the war in Syria and allegations of election meddling by the Kremlin.
"Today's decision removes obstacles created by Gazprom, which stand in the way of the free flow of gas in Central and Eastern Europe," EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager told a news briefing in Brussels.
Vestager insisted that the settlement imposed strict "obligations" on Gazprom and "provides a tailor-made rulebook for Gazprom's future conduct."
She said the deal would be "to the benefit of millions of European consuemers when they heat their houses or when they cook their food", and to businesses that rely on Gazprom supplies.
Vestager in March 2017 already gave her approval to commitments made by Gazprom, but a furious response by eastern Europeans had delayed the formal decision.
The EU has been investigating Gazprom since 2011 over claims it abused its dominant position with unfair prices and restrictive terms in eight EU countries, all former satellites of the Soviet empire.
The dispute quickly got caught in the growing discord between the EU and Moscow that began with the conflict in Ukraine and re-emerged most recently with the poisoning of a Russian spy in Britain.
Gazprom's Deputy Chairman Alexander Medvedev said his company was "satisfied" with the commitments and "reaffirms its commitment to comply with them in future".
After the initial deal was announced, Poland's state-run gas firm PGNiG staunchly advocated for tough penalties for Gazprom and can be expected to fight the settlement in court.
"If such a decision is made, it will be strange," Lithuanian Prime Minister Saulius Skvernelis told reportes in Vilnius.