Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said on Tuesday that German politicians are aware of the dangers of increasing energy dependence on Russia after its annexation of Crimea in 2014 – and are now paying the price for ignoring the problem.
“Actually, as Europeans, we’ve known since 2014 at the latest … that we have to become completely independent of Russian imports of fossil fuels, and a strategy to diversify our energy imports has been launched,” said Baerbock in a speech at the Berlin Dialogue Energiewende.
“But we didn’t tackle it and it is now taking its toll in the most brutal way,” she added.
German politicians – most notably the former government of former Chancellor Angela Merkel – came under scrutiny over the country’s troubled reliance on Russian energy imports when years of aggressive geopolitical positioning by Russian President Vladimir Putin culminated in an all-out attack on Ukraine.
Germany now finds itself in a bind as it struggles to balance calls for a ban on energy imports from Moscow with the potential that such a ban would have to plunge its own economy into recession.
Economics and Climate Minister Robert Habeck, who, like Baerbock, comes from the Greens, who were not part of the previous government, sharply criticized Berlin’s decisions to date.
“Energy policy is always power politics, is always interest politics, so it’s always security politics. And when you look back, it’s almost impossible to understand how you could have overlooked it so blindly,” he said at the conference in Berlin.
Despite Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula in 2014 and a Russian-influenced armed conflict in eastern Ukraine in the years that followed, Germany increased its reliance on Russian energy imports and also approved construction of the controversial Russia-Germany Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.
“We knew, or could have known, that not only was it stupid to put all of our security policy cards on just one country, but that putting them on that particular country wasn’t a smart idea either,” Habeck said. “We have to acknowledge that we have acted wrongly in the past.”
Green politicians have long criticized Germany’s heavy reliance on Russian energy imports as well as the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, partly related to their political stance to promote renewable energies such as wind or solar power as alternatives to fossil fuels.
In the last election campaign in Germany, in which Baerbock ran as the Green Party’s candidate for chancellor, she was the only candidate who openly warned about Russia’s geopolitical intentions and the problematic energy connections.
“If you really want to lead a country and a Europe, then you have to look ahead a bit and say: What will happen in the future? And Mr. Putin is in competition not only with Ukraine, which he wants to destabilize, but also with us Europeans,” Baerbock said in a TV debate last summer.
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