The European Commission told EU member states this week that they could continue to buy Russian gas without violating sanctions, Reuters reported.
The commission advised companies not to open a ruble-denominated bank account with Gazprombank to do so, as required by the Kremlin, but did not explicitly say that this would violate sanctions in the official written guidance for governments on the matter.
According to officials with knowledge of the matter, the European Commission made the recommendations in closed session.
Companies in the European Union are trying to figure out how to keep buying Russian gas after Moscow demanded foreign buyers start paying in rubles and cut off supplies to Poland and Bulgaria for refusing to do so.
At the EU meeting, the Commission reiterated its position that companies can continue to buy Russian gas without violating sanctions if they pay in the currency of their existing contracts and claim that this fulfills their contractual obligations, EU officials said.
The contracts of most European companies with the Russian gas giant Gazprom are concluded in euros or dollars.
The European Commission said it no longer has a definitive position on whether companies can open ruble accounts with Gazprombank to do so, but officials said it has advised against doing so.
The advice has no legal force and can be effectively ignored by companies. In its most recent written guidance on gas payments, which is more legally binding and reviewed by Reuters, the Commission did not specify whether opening a ruble account violated sanctions under the earlier document.
Poland asked the meeting for clearer guidance on whether ruble accounts are allowed, after a Commission spokesman on Tuesday appeared to have gone beyond the written guidelines, saying at a briefing that it went beyond what Brussels said, permitted under sanctions.
The same spokesman said on Thursday that it was simply "not appropriate" for companies to open ruble accounts, refusing to provide conclusive answers to specific questions about the legitimacy of such accounts.
He added that EU countries are responsible for enforcing the bloc's sanctions. Brussels can sue governments that do not enforce them.
Russia said foreign companies needed two accounts to comply with the new payment mechanism, one in foreign currency and one in rubles.
The European Commission on Wednesday unveiled a plan to end Europe's dependence on Russian fossil fuels by 2027, which it said would require an investment of 210 billion euros.