Poland urges Germany to buy less Russian gas
Polish leader Donald Tusk has said Germany should reduce its gas dependence on Russia for the sake of EU foreign policy.
Speaking to press on Monday (10 March) at a military base in Siemirowice, on Poland’s Baltic Sea coast, he said: “In future, we will not be able to successfully resist against aggressive or expansionist steps by Russia if so many European countries will be dependent on [Russian] gas and will go even further down the road of dependence.”
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He singled out Germany ahead of a visit by Chancellor Angela Merkel to Poland on Wednesday.
“German dependence on Russian gas could effectively limit European sovereignty,” Tusk said.
“I will speak about this with Chancellor Merkel above all else, in what way Germany could correct its economic behaviour so that dependence on Russian gas does not paralyse Europe when it needs to act quickly and unambiguously,” he added.
“It’s not just about Germany, but Germany is a good example of this phenomenon [growing dependence] in recent years.”
Tusk spoke after EU leaders last week considered a broad range of sanctions - including on Russian gas and oil - in reaction to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula.
Russian state firm Gazprom has also threatened to stop deliveries to Ukraine, which transits Russian gas to Europe, over unpaid bills.
According to the Paris-based International Energy Agency, Russia last year supplied 167 billion cubic metres (bcm) of Europe’s 270 bcm gas imports.
Some EU countries - such as Bulgaria, Finland, and Lithuania - get all their gas from Russia, while Germany relies on Russia for about 40 percent of its supplies.
It also buys large amounts of Russian oil and coal, but it is easier to switch oil and coal providers, unlike gas, which is delivered mainly by fixed pipelines.
In a sign of Germany and Russia’s ever-closer energy relations, Merkel in 2011 turned on the taps at Nord Stream, a €7.4 billion pipeline to bring Russian gas directly to Germany under the Baltic Sea.
The man who orchestrated the project, former chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, now works for Gazprom and speaks out on Russia’s side.
He told German daily Die Zeit on Monday that while Russia’s intervention in Crimea is illegal, Germany should not point fingers because it took part in Nato bombings of Serbia in 1999 without a UN mandate.
He also blamed the EU for causing the crisis by giving Ukraine an either/or choice on free trade ties with the EU or Russia. “That was the EU’s first mistake, which led to the conflict between Kiev and Moscow,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Ukraine crisis has already impacted EU-Russia energy ties.
EU energy commissioner Gunther Oettinger told German daily Die Welt on Monday he has suspended talks with Russia on a legal conflict over the South Stream pipeline, a project to pump more gas from Russia to Europe under the Black Sea.
"I won't accelerate talks about pipelines such as South Stream for the time being, they will be delayed," he said.
A spokeswoman for the EU foreign service noted the same day that EU institutions have begun “preparatory work” on potential visa bans and asset freezes on Russian officials, which could trigger a Russian retaliation.
Ukraine itself gets 90 percent of its gas imports from Russia.
But the EU is working on new arrangements to pump up to 8 bcm a year of gas in a “reverse flow” from Germany, Poland, or Slovakia to Ukraine to cut Russian dependence to 60 percent.
EU officials told EUobserver the reverse gas could start flowing in six months’ time.
It would come from a mixture of sources in Europe’s integrated pipeline network. But in the long term, EU countries are increasingly looking to shale gas, from inside Europe and from the US, as an alternative to Russian imports.