Despite the Russian freeze on gas deliveries to Poland and Bulgaria, Germany and the European Union do not fear any direct consequences for energy supplies. The federal government and the head of the EU Commission emphasized on Wednesday that the gas storage facilities are increasingly full and that there is no need to worry directly. “For today I can say: The gas deliveries are coming to Germany steadily and in the same quantity as on the previous days,” said Federal Minister of Economics Robert Habeck (Greens). The Russian gas monopolist Gazprom had surprisingly stopped deliveries to Poland and Bulgaria. They will be suspended until the countries give in to Moscow’s demand to pay in rubles, the Kremlin said. The EU, on the other hand, insists on continuing to pay for deliveries in dollars or euros. Only Gazprombank should convert the payments into rubles.
At the same time, Berlin and Brussels announced that they would step up efforts to become independent of Russian oil and gas supplies. The dependency on Russian gas has shrunk rapidly in recent weeks, said Habeck. Before the war began, 55 percent of gas imports came from Russia, but now it is 35 percent. How quickly imports can be completely replaced now depends on the expansion of the corresponding infrastructure – for example for the import of liquefied natural gas.
Concerns that Moscow’s harsh move could drive the EU apart also initially appear unfounded. In any case, there is currently no evidence of this. The Polish government has always taken a tough stance in the conflict with Russia, and the gas blockade will not change that. Brussels also considers it unlikely that Bulgaria could deviate from the largely unified line of the EU. Especially since the EU wants to help Bulgaria, especially via Greece. One problem, however, is that the country will only have a direct pipeline connection to Greece and thus to the rest of the EU in June. “What happened to Poland and Bulgaria is a signal of what could happen to other countries,” says Andreas Goldthau, who researches energy security at the University of Erfurt. “That will give another push to expand the European infrastructure.” France invited the EU energy ministers next Monday to set a common line after stopping gas supplies to Poland and Bulgaria. “Europe must remain united and show solidarity with one another,” tweeted French Energy and Environment Minister Barbara Pompili.
In Brussels, EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said that the gas freeze “is harming Russia itself”. “It’s not surprising that the Kremlin is trying to use fossil fuels to blackmail us.” Your authority “prepared for this – in close coordination and solidarity with the member states and our international partners”. The EU’s response would be “quick, uniform and well coordinated”. According to von der Leyen, the Commission is “working hand in hand with our member states to secure alternative gas supplies from other partners”. Most recently, the EU had concluded an agreement with the USA to deliver significantly more liquefied natural gas by tanker this year. The authority has also talked about an increase with Egypt and Qatar.
In this context, however, Habeck warned against only looking at yourself in this crisis. Yes, it is important to become independent of Russian energy supplies as quickly as possible. But with the growing worldwide competition for other suppliers, one must also think of those states that are economically weaker and could be completely squeezed out by rising prices on the world markets. “That could drive them into the arms of Russia,” said Habeck. “This must not happen.”
The traces for the economy are already becoming visible. On Wednesday, Habeck presented the federal government’s usual spring projection in Berlin – with a significant downward correction. In January, the government was still expecting growth of 3.6 percent for this year, but now it is only 2.2 percent – and this is mainly due to the high energy prices as a result of the Ukraine war. “We pay a price,” said Habeck, “and we have to be willing to pay that price.” If Russian gas supplies were interrupted, “we would have a recession,” said the Green.
Only the day before he had promised that Germany could very soon be independent of oil imports from Russia. This does not mean, however, that this will leave its mark on prices, for example. “It can also come to local failures.” However, there is no threat of a “national catastrophe”. The declared goal is “to become independent of Russian fossil energy”.