BERLIN — German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Monday pushed back against calls from the United States and Ukraine for a European ban on imports of Russian gas and oil as part of international sanctions against Moscow.
One of the darker ironies of Russian President Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine is that Europe is helping fund the Kremlin’s war machine through energy payments. Despite repeated promises to reduce dependence on Russia after the 2014 invasion of Crimea, the EU has failed to tackle its dependence on hydrocarbons. Dismissing fears that Putin posed a serious threat, Germany has long been the main promoter of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline pumping gas from Russian export monopoly Gazprom directly to Germany.
Although Berlin ultimately had to freeze the Nord Stream 2 project after the invasion of Ukraine, Scholz made it clear that Europe’s biggest economy would no longer make energy sacrifices and would continue to buy from Russia.
“Europe has deliberately exempted Russia’s energy supplies from sanctions,” Scholz said in a statement. “At the moment, Europe’s energy supply for heat generation, mobility, power supply and industry cannot be secured in any other way. It is therefore of essential importance for the delivery of public services and the daily lives of our citizens,” he added.
The Ukrainian government, with the support of a number of American and European politicians, has argued that the West must act and cut off this basic revenue stream for the Russian budget.
Ignoring Germany’s role in undermining EU diversification plans for years, Scholz said his government and European partners had been “working hard for months” to develop alternatives to energy supplies. Russian, but stressed that “it cannot happen overnight”.
“That is why it is a conscious decision on our part to continue the activities of commercial enterprises in the field of energy supply with Russia,” Scholz added.
The Chancellor’s intervention followed remarks 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 Russian oil. Japanese media reported that Tokyo had joined these talks.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky also called on Monday for “a boycott of Russian exports, especially the rejection of oil and petroleum products from Russia.”
“Some would call it an embargo, others might call it morality, when you refuse to give money to a terrorist,” he added.
Addressing a possible ban on Russian energy, EU Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis said: “Nothing should be ruled out… We should do more, because this aggression unfortunately does not stop, so we must find a way – in a sense – to stop Putin’s ability to fund this war.British Prime Minister Boris Johnson also said an oil import ban should be “very much on the table”.
The problem is that it would be almost impossible for the EU to impose an import ban on Russian oil without the backing of Germany, the bloc’s linchpin.
In Germany, support for Scholz seemed broad.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, ironically from the Greens, is also in favor of maintaining hydrocarbons.
“We are ready, as I have said many times, to pay a very, very high economic price,” Baerbock told the “Anne Will” talk show on Sunday. “But if tomorrow the lights go out in Germany, in Europe, that doesn’t mean the tanks will stop. As I said, if it did, we would,” he said. she stated.
Michael Kellner, parliamentary state secretary in Germany’s economy ministry, said on Monday that it was much easier for the United States to block oil imports than for Germany. He notes that Russian oil accounts for 7-8% of US imports, while about 30% of German imports come from Russia. It’s 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), issued a rare note of dissent.
“Putin is trying to bring Ukraine to its knees by criminally bombing entire streets, residential areas and hospitals. We cannot allow this to continue by funding his war with oil and gas. My appeal to the German government: please stop our imports,” he said.
Germany’s reluctance to impose these sanctions now poses a big strategic problem to international attempts to tighten the economic noose around Putin. Even fear of potential sanctions against Russia has imposed a surprisingly broad de facto embargo on Russian oil in recent days. On Friday, 70% of Russian oil was struggling to find buyers, according to JPMorgan.
This is a serious temporary headache for Putin. It may eventually diversify into other markets like China, but will be likely to face steep discounts on its crude in the meantime.
It remains to be seen whether traders will end their self-imposed embargo in the coming days, believing that Germany will have averted the immediate threat of a European crackdown on Russian crude.
Paola Tamma and America Hernandez contributed reporting
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