Russian full-scale attack on Ukraine has forced the world to make a tough choice: to keep buying Russian fossil fuels and thus finance the war or to refuse them and go through the huge changes in their energy systems. Germany is one of the world`s biggest economies but it is also highly dependent on Russian natural gas supplies. The EU is the largest buyer of Russian energy, while Germany is the largest buyer of the Russian energy in Europe.
Is it possible for Germany to stop funding the war, ban Russian gas and diversify the suppliers to reduce the vulnerability of its energy mix and at the same time to protect its economy and citizens? Experts discussed those questions on the online panel organized by Heinrich Boell Foundation together with NGO Ecoaction on June 2nd, 2022.
The lion`s share of Russian federal budget comes from fossil fuels exports and this income helps Russia funding its brutal war. Russian dominance on the energy market also made lots of countries dependent on its supplies.
“The export of fossil fuels to the European Union during the last decades has helped to strengthen the authoritarian character of Russia. And this unilateral dependence of the European Union makes it more difficult to react and to respond to this invasion”, – said Mr. Jan Phillip Albrecht, President of the Heinrich Boell Foundation in his welcome. The war in Ukraine is against democracy, freedom, and the international law, so Europe should look for a common solution in solidarity with Ukraine, he adds.
Ukrainian authorities have as well their position on what EU partners and Germany should do to support Ukraine and stop the war. If Germany gets rid of Russian fossil fuel dependency it would help a lot to stop financial flows which fuel the war. Nevertheless, there is an understanding that Germany’s economy should keep running. Yaroslav Demchenkov, Deputy Minister for European integration in the Ministry of Energy of Ukraine, voiced the proposals – for example, to replace some of Russian fossil fuels with electricity from Ukraine, which might be also beneficial for Germany as Ukraine has a high potential in the development of renewable energy.
“It’s also no secret that, exploiting this dependence, Russia brought about an increase in energy prices in Europe even before it invaded Ukraine. Last year, Russia’s Gazprom stopped filling underground gas storage facilities in the EU in sufficient volumes, and in the winter, it reduced gas supplies to a minimum, which lead to a significant increase in its price. As a result, European gas prices exceeded even prices in the Asian market, where gas is traditionally the most expensive in the world”, - told Mr. Demchenkov. He also thinks that Germany should get rid of dependence on Russian Gazprom not only because it pays for war, but also because such action proves their commercial unreliability.
Changing not only suppliers but also the character of energy resources and decreasing consumption can bring benefits towards fighting Russian aggression and reaching goals of energy transition simultaneously. The German Parliament is working on reducing the dependency on Russian energy supplies, step by step.
“This is quite a range of Bills that are supposed to help us”, says Ms. Ingrid Nestle, a German politician of Alliance 90/The Greens and a member of the Bundestag. – “We’ll focus, of course, on renewable resources, this is also on our agenda. And we also want to become independent from fossil fuels, as we have a climate crisis. We have a very demanding agenda on renewables, a new Bill is planned”. She also stressed, that there is a huge potential in reducing the energy consumption, though it might be difficult as it has to be applied in different sectors. In addition to this, it is also challenging to act in solidarity with Ukraine while the energy prices are rising, she adds.
The analytics also shows that direct ban of Russian gas imports will cause troubles for the German energy sector in short-term perspective.
“Our analysis shows that the direct stop of the Russian gas exports will lead to a shortfall this winter in Europe, even if we were to draw all options which we deem realistic. Without being overly optimistic, we do see shortfalls even considering the LNG capacities which are set up by the Federal Government and which are now also sourced by other countries”, – says Dr. Casimir Lorenz, the Project Leader in Aurora Energy Research. He also agrees that though in short-term perspective Germany will need an additional gas import, because the industry can`t switch to other sources on such a short notice, but in long-term vision Germany should rely on renewables.
Of course, the increase in gas prices was beneficial for Russia. Even though the quantity of gas bought by Germany has dropped, the amount of money received has risen.
“We can see that Russia’s State Budget income from oil and gas taxes has increased by 40% in the first four months this year, so indeed they are very much benefiting from the extraordinary high prices on oil and gas”, - told Aliona Osmolovska, Director at Reform Support Team at the Ministry of Energy of Ukraine. While the amount of gas bought by Russia has dropped, as several of the speakers mentioned. But Ms. Osmolovska sees the opportunity to cut Russian budget without immediate ban of Russian gas.
“Russia cannot deliver this gas to anywhere else but to European market in such volumes. It doesn’t have the capacity of reworking this gas within Russia, at least not in short term, it doesn’t have a pipeline to China; its capacity to convert this gas to LNG and ship it by the sea is very limited. So, Russia is more dependent on Europe in terms of gas, then Europe is dependent of Russia. If Europe decides to act in a coordinated manner, and say that “we are buying this gas on a centralized basis”, then Europe will be able to put out conditions of whatever you see suitable”, - she says.
Georg Zachmann, Senior fellow at Bruegel think tank, agrees with this. Russia is dependent on European money and it is rather a political game then an economic, so Europe can pressure Russia to sell gas by its rules, if Europe can convince Russia that it`s capable of managing without Russian supplies at all. Although it still would be a “deal with the devil”, as Mr. Zachmann said.
On the other hand, Evgenia Zasiadko, the head of the climate department at NGO Ecoaction, Ukraine, told that while Russian fossil fuels are financing the deaths of Ukrainians right now, any fossil fuels are also threatening the world with climate change. “Now it is crucial to follow a path of an immediate clean energy transition and rapidly accelerated investments in energy efficiency and energy savings. And not only in the EU, but also around the world. It would help Ukraine to stop the war now, and it will also help the world to avoid the terrible consequences of the climate change in future”, - she insists. That`s why it is important not just to switch to other suppliers, but to reduce the use of fossil fuels in general.
Ms. Zasiadko also reminded that such actions should be taken rapidly for while the discussions are going people in Ukraine keep dying in war financed by fossil fuels Europe is paying for.
You can see the full recording of the online discussion in English here.