Leader: Europe must break its fatal dependence on Russian energy
In 2014, following Russia’s annexation of Crimea, then-Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk warned: “Overreliance on Russian energy weakens Europe. Eight years later, after Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine, the continent is paying the price for ignoring Mr. Tusk’s words.
The sanctions blitz announced by Europe against Russia is necessary: Russian banks have been expelled from Swift, the global financial messaging system, and the country’s central bank has been sanctioned (preventing Mr. Putin from using the major part of Russia’s $640 billion “war chest” foreign exchange reserves). But energy was the unpleasant exception.
Only the United States, which is the world’s largest oil producer, has announced a ban on Russian oil imports, while the United Kingdom has pledged to phase out imports by the end of this year. . For now, the West continues to subsidize Mr. Putin’s war machine. Indeed, his corrupt regime has profited from soaring energy prices. At the beginning of this year, Europe paid 190 million euros per day for Russian natural gas, but this figure has since exceeded 600 million euros per day. As Shell’s Vice President of Business Development Laszlo Varro wryly observed: “Given current export flows and prices [for oil]Western democracies fund a T90 main battle tank every 20 minutes.
Europe’s complicity stems from the dependence that Mr. Tusk pointed out: the continent buys around 40% of its gas, 40% of its diesel and 30% of its oil from Russia. Countries like the Czech Republic, Latvia and Moldova import 100% of their gas from Russia. But it is in Germany, the continent’s largest economy, that Europe’s short-sightedness is most visible.
It was Angela Merkel’s government that oversaw the construction of Nord Stream 2, the new gas pipeline from Russia, and increased Germany’s dependence on Russian gas by announcing in 2011 the closure of all 17 nuclear power plants of the country following the Fukushima disaster in Japan. That this reckless approach was maintained even as Mr. Putin’s revanchist Russia advanced is a stain on Mrs. Merkel’s legacy.
Olaf Scholz, Germany’s new Social Democratic Chancellor, is now grappling with this grim legacy. Even without Nord Stream 2, which its government has rightly shelved, Germany depends on Russia to 55% of its gas, 45% of its coal and around 35% of its oil. Like Adnan Vatansever, the author of Oil in Putin’s Russiarecently told the new statesman“Putin was not kicked out [to invade Ukraine] by the desire to raise oil prices. But he knows that oil prices will rise and that his war will not cost him dearly. It is therefore essentially covered.
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For strategic as well as moral reasons, Europe must finally break its addiction to Russian energy. The EU has now announced its intention to eliminate the bloc’s dependence on Russian gas by 2030. But Mr Putin’s assault on Ukraine is a moment to think the unthinkable and impose sanctions global.
To cope with supply, Europe is expected to source gas from other exporters, including the United States, Japan, South Korea and Qatar. Germany is expected to halt the closure of its three remaining nuclear power plants, which are due to be decommissioned at the end of this year, and build new terminals to receive liquid natural gas by sea.
On the demand side, governments should encourage households to reduce their energy consumption in solidarity with Ukrainians – a decision that will be facilitated by the arrival of spring. But as prices rise and household incomes are reduced, they must also offer grants and loans of the kind used during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Even before Mr. Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, the climate crisis was forcing Europe to pledge net-zero emissions. The return of war to the continent should accelerate this transition. As our Environment Editor Philippa Nuttall writes, in addition to increasing defense spending, governments should dramatically increase investment in solar, wind, and other renewables. Germany must end its aversion to government bonds – another unfortunate legacy of the Merkel era.
For too long, the fossil fuel industry has guaranteed Mr. Putin’s Russia and other autocratic oil states. A green revolution is essential not only for the future of the planet, but also for the security of Europe.
[see also: Net zero is the energy answer to Russian aggression]