BERLIN – German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Monday strongly opposed calls from the United States and Ukraine for a ban on Russian gas and oil imports as part of international sanctions against Moscow.
One of the greatest ironies of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine is that Europe is helping to fund the Kremlin’s war machine through energy payments. Despite repeated pledges to reduce dependence on Russia after the 2014 invasion of Crimea, the EU has failed to combat its hydrocarbon addiction. Removing fears that Putin is a serious threat, Germany has long been the main proponent of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that pumps gas from Russia’s export monopoly Gazprom straight to Germany.
Although Berlin eventually had to freeze the Nord Stream 2 project after the invasion of Ukraine, Mr. Scholz made it clear that Europe’s largest economy would not make any further energy sacrifices and would continue to buy from Russia.
“Europe has intentionally exempted energy supplies from Russia from sanctions,” Scholz said in a statement. “Currently, Europe’s energy supply for heat production, mobility, electricity supply and industry cannot be guaranteed in any other way. It is therefore of vital importance to the delivery of public services and the daily lives of our citizens,” he added.
The Ukrainian government, with the backing of a number of American and European politicians, has argued that the West must step in and cut off this core source of revenue for the Russian budget.
Appreciating Germany’s role in undermining the EU’s diversification plans for years, Scholz said that his government and European partners have “worked hard for many months” to develop alternatives to Russian energy supplies, but stressed that “this cannot be done overnight.”
“That is why the continuation of business enterprises in the field of energy supply with Russia is a conscious decision on our part,” added Scholz.
The prime minister’s intervention follows comments by US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who said on Sunday that the United States and the European Union were in “very active discussions” to ban imports of its oil Russia. Japanese media reported that Tokyo joined those discussions.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Monday also called for a “boycott of Russian exports, especially the rejection of oil and oil products from Russia”.
“Someone will call it embargo, others might call it moral, when you refuse to give money to a terrorist,” he added.
Addressing a potential ban on Russian energy, European Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis said: “There’s nothing to talk about… We should do more, because this aggression is unfortunately unjustifiable. has not stopped, so we should find a way – in a sense – to stop Putin’s ability to fund this war”. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has also said that an oil import ban should be put in place “a lot”.
The problem is that it is nearly impossible for the EU to impose a ban on Russian oil imports without the support of Germany, the bloc’s flagship country.
In Germany, support for Scholz seems to be widespread.
Ironically, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock from the Greens also advocated keeping hydrocarbons active.
“We are prepared, as I have made clear many times, to pay a very high economic price,” Baerbock said on Sunday’s “Anne Will” talk show. “But if tomorrow the lights go out in Germany, in Europe, that doesn’t mean the tanks will stop. Like I said, if that’s the case, we will,” she said.
Michael Kellner, Secretary of State for Germany’s Economy Ministry, argued on Monday that it is much easier for the US to block oil imports than for Germany. He noted that Russian oil accounts for 7 to 8% of US imports, while about 30% of German imports are from Russia. This is a “very different starting position,” Kellner told public broadcaster ZDF.
Norbert Röttgen, a foreign policy-focused lawmaker from the center-right opposition Christian Democratic Union (CDU), has sparked a rare spotlight on dissent.
“Putin is trying to bring Ukraine to its knees by criminally bombing entire streets, residential areas and hospitals. We cannot allow that to continue by funding his war through oil and gas. My appeal to the German government: Stop our imports,” he said.
Germany’s reluctance to impose these sanctions now poses a major strategic problem to international efforts to tighten the economic noose around Putin. Even the fear of potential sanctions against Russia has put in place an unexpectedly large de facto embargo on Russian oil in recent days. As of Friday, 70% of Russian oil is struggling to find buyers, according to JP Morgan.
This is a serious temporary headache for Putin. He could eventually diversify into other markets like China but will face a sharp drop in the price of his crude in the meantime.
It remains to be seen whether traders will end their self-imposed embargo in the coming days, given that Germany will remove the immediate threat of a European crackdown on oil. Russian raw.
Paola Tamma and America Hernandez contributed reporting
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