Germany 'getting ready for the worst case' over Russian gas

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Ingrida Simonyte, Lithuania’s prime minister, tweeted on Sunday that, as of April 1, “Lithuania won’t be consuming a cubic cm of toxic Russian gas. Lithuania is the first EU country to refuse Russian gas import”. Estonia and Latvia, the other two Baltic states, also announced temporarily stopping the flow of Russian gas in response to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. 

The move has increased pressure on the remaining EU member states to follow suit, with reports of leaders mulling tougher sanctions to punish the Putin regime. 

Lithuania – a former Soviet state that gained independence in 1990 – has spent the past decade working to achieve energy independence as the last step of cutting ties with Moscow. 

After the prime minister’s announcement, Lithuania’s President Gitanas Nauseda said: “Years ago, my country made decisions that today allow us with no pain to break energy ties with the aggressor. 

“If we can do it, the rest of Europe can do it too.”

But how likely – or possible – is it for the EU to totally cut itself off from Russian supply? 

Other member states don’t have the advantage of the Baltics, with Lithuania opening its own liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal in 2014 as part of its push against Russian reliance. 

LNG – a method of cooling natural gas to liquid form to allow safer and easier methods of transportation – is expected to be the key to European gas independence across the continent. 

Russian gas travels via pipelines, making its proximity to Europe and vast resources of natural gas the obvious choice until now.

One of the major benefits of LNG is the fact that it can travel further due to its increased stability in liquid form. 

EU officials have sought alternative gas supplies in recent months from countries including the United States, Qatar, Azerbaijan and Japan, in efforts to increase LNG supply. 

But the bloc needs to vastly increase its sources of LNG if this is to work. 

The US has offered to deliver around 15 billion cubic metres (bcm) of LNG to the EU this year, but that will not be nearly enough to power the bloc – Germany alone consumed 100 bcm in 2021, according to German energy company BDEW. 

Russia provides some 49 percent of German supply, according to data from the Agency for the Cooperation of Energy Regulators (ACER), with the country believed to be particularly vulnerable to a cut in supply due to its longstanding energy relationship with Russia. 

In total, Europe relies on Russian supply for more than 40 percent of its gas. 

Heavy EU users include Finland, Italy, Bulgaria, Slovakia, Croatia and Austria, while those with a lesser reliance include Romania, the Netherlands and France. 

While the topic of weaning itself off Russian supply has dominated EU summits since the war in Ukraine began, at the time this article was published, Russia maintained gas flows through key pipeline routes into Europe, worth millions of pounds. 

Russian state-owned energy giant Gazprom said it was continuing to supply natural gas to Europe via Ukraine in line with requests from European consumers.

But the discovery of a mass grave and civilians shot dead at close range this week in the Ukrainian city of Bucha just outside Kyiv, from which Russian forces recently withdrew, has spurred calls for tougher sanctions.

At a summit on Monday, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said the European Union will “significantly tighten” its sanctions against Russia.

And Christian Lindner, German Finance Minister, said the EU must work towards cutting all economic ties with Russia over its “criminal” war in Ukraine.

However, he said an outright ban on all Russian energy imports would inflict more economic damage on EU member states than on Russia, adding that the EU must look separately at the possibility of banning oil, coal or gas, which can be replaced at varying speeds.

France’s economic analysis council said a hefty EU-wide tariff on Russian energy imports could prove more efficient than an outright ban, although even a full embargo would have a limited impact on most countries.

The Conseil d’Analyse Economique said that a full energy ban could on average cause a loss of gross national income of 100 euros (£83) per adult.

Italy, which is also heavily reliant on Russian gas, said it will not veto sanctions on Russian gas imports and said it has sufficient reserves to forego Russian gas supply over the next few months.

And last month, EU leaders decided to bulk buy LNG jointly from other sources.

Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, said: “Instead of outbidding each other and driving prices up we will pool our purchasing power.”

But in light of recent atrocities, there are growing calls for the bloc to do more to isolate Putin from the rest of the globe. 

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