Germany has warned that an immediate boycott of Russian gas and oil supplies could hurt its own population more than Vladimir Putin, bringing mass unemployment and poverty.
“If we flip a switch immediately, there will be supply shortages, even supply stops in Germany,” the economic and energy minister Robert Habeck told public broadcaster ARD on Sunday, as Europe’s largest economy intensely searches to diversify its energy supplies in the medium term .
The Green party politician predicted “mass unemployment, poverty, people who can’t heat their homes, people who run out of petrol” if his country stopped using Russian oil and gas.
Few other western economies are as dependent on Russian energy as Germany: 55% of the natural gas, 52% of the coal and 34% of mineral oil used in the country comes from Russia, for which it pays hundreds of thousands of euros daily, financially supporting the war machine currently devastating Ukraine.
Habeck said his government was working hard to ensure Germany would be in a position to give up Russian coal by the summer, and to phase out Russian oil by the end of the year, but that a short-term ban on Russian gas could leave his country exposed.
“With coal, oil and even gas we are step by step in the process of making ourselves independent”, the former Green party co-leader said. “But we can’t do it in an instant. That’s bitter, and it’s not a nice thing morally to confess to, but we can’t do it yet.”
The US, which imported roughly 8% of its crude oil needs from Russia in 2021, announced a ban on Russian oil with immediate effect last week, while the UK announced it would phase out Russian oil imports by the end of the year.
Since the start of the war in Ukraine, the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, has u-turned on a number of foreign policy red lines, consenting to deliver lethal weapons to Ukraine, supporting cutting Russia off from the Swift payment system, and freezing the completed but not yet functional Nord Stream 2 pipeline underneath the Baltic Sea.
But the centre-left leader has said his hands are tied when it comes to banning Russian energy. “Currently there is no other way to secure Europe’s supply with energy to generate heat, for mobility, for power supply and for industry,” Scholz said last week.
Depending on the predictions of various thinktanks and economic institutes, an immediate stop in Russian gas deliveries could shrink Germany’s GDP by as little as 0.1 or as much as 5.2 percentage points.
In an open letter, a number of prominent German scientists, writers and activists have urged the government to take the bold step to cut itself loose from Russian energy. The Christian Democratic Union of former Chancellor Angela Merkel has proposed shutting down the Nord Stream 1 pipeline while allowing gas imports via other routes.
Germany’s left-liberal government, meanwhile, is trying to buy time in order to fill up its gas reserves, which were undersupplied by Russian energy companies last year and are largely depleted at the end of the winter.
In its search for alternative sources of energy, short-term solutions are also hard to come by. Simplifying the process where by new wind and solar farms are to be authorized was one of the promises of the “traffic light” government’s coalition deal, but construction alone will take time.
Building port terminals for liquefied natural gas (LNG), as Germany has now vowed to do in the towns of Brunsbüttel und Wilhelmshaven, usually takes at least five years.
“Can’t do is a highly problematic statement”, energy expert Claudia Kemfert told German broadcaster ARD. “Because the likely challenge we are facing is that we have no choice but to can do”.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism