25th Sep 2023

'Lining Putin's pockets': EU's LNG imports rise since war

  • From January to July 2023, European countries increased their LNG purchases from Russia by 40 percent (Photo: Unsplash)
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EU countries have increased their purchases of liquefied natural gas (LNG) from Russia compared to pre-war levels — reviving the question of sanctioning this fuel as well.

EU sanctions against Vladimir Putin's country cover seaborne oil and coal imports, but not LNG, which acts as a loophole in the 11 packages of sanctions imposed on Russia.

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Despite its attempts to reduce its energy dependence on Russia, the EU as a whole has not imposed any sanctions on Russian LNG. There has been a debate, but it has not addressed how to do so, as the EU-27 fears it could drive up energy prices and have the opposite of the desired effect — which is to not fund Putin's war machine.

From January to July 2023, EU countries increased their LNG purchases from Russia by 40 percent to 22 million cubic metres.

In figures, Global Witness estimates that these purchases will amount to €5.29bn by the end of the year.

"Even though LNG volumes have increased, it's still a relatively small level and a very small share of our overall energy imports," an EU Commission spokesperson told reporters on Thursday (31 August).

Whether the bloc plans include sanctions on these gas imports has not been confirmed by the EU executive.

In March, EU energy commissioner Kadri Simson called on member states not to signnew Russian LNG contracts, which she described as a "reputational risk" for a country sanctioned at EU level for its invasion of Ukraine.

Compared to the EU, the global average increase in Russian LNG imports is six percent.

"Buying Russian gas has the same impact as buying Russian oil," Jonathan Noronha-Gant, campaigner at Global Witness said. "Both fund the war in Ukraine, and every euro means more bloodshed".

Spain and Belgium are Russia's biggest buyers of LNG, behind only its ally China, which has not condemned Russia's military aggression.

In the first seven months of the year, Spain accounted for 18 percent of total Russian LNG sales and Belgium for 17 percent, according to Kpler data.

Before the war, in 2021, the same two countries were the fifth and seventh largest buyers of Russian LNG.

Last year alone, Spain was the largest re-exporter of LNG to European buyers, according to the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis (IEEFA).

Since 2018, Spain has been importing Russian liquefied natural gas, which peaked in April this year.

On the contrary, imports from the US have been declining since January 2022, while imports from Nigeria have remained steady.

"Governments need to wake up to the reality of our dependence on fossil gas and come up with an emergency plan for a full phase-out — starting with a ban on the trade of the Russian gas which is lining Putin's pockets," Noronha-Gant said.

The Global Witness investigation also noted that multinationals such as Shell and TotalEnergies have continued to buy gas from Russia, even after Russia's invasion of Ukraine in February 2022.

Berlin ignored Brussels over number of LNG terminals

The EU Commission assessed northern Germany needs only two liquified natural gas terminals to replace Russian supply, memos show, but the Berlin government is eyeing 12 potential sites — vastly exceeding assessed needs.


Europe's energy strategy: A tale of competing priorities

Enhancing energy security empowers nations to heavily invest in renewable energy sources such as wind, solar, and hydroelectric power. But with a stable supply of LNG, Europe can also speed up its shift away from fossil fuels.

EU farm chief backs extending Ukraine grain ban and subsidies

EU agriculture commissioner Janusz Wojciechowski has backed extending the temporary ban on Ukrainian grain imports in five frontline countries until the end of 2023 — and proposed providing subsidies for Ukrainian grain exporters.

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