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Poland thinks Russia’s invasion of Ukraine shows it’s high time for the EU to do something it has failed miserably in past crises: kick Russians out of the energy supply chain from Europe.
Past promises to end Europe’s dependence on Russian oil and gas have never gone far. The EU made repeated promises about finding new energy sources after the winter 2009 supply crisis and after the Russian invasion of Crimea in 2014, but got little. In fact, the situation only got worse. Some 35% of total EU gas imports came from Russia in 2020, up from 26% in 2010.
Anna Moskwa, Poland’s energy minister, argued that Russian President Vladimir Putin’s all-out war on Ukraine could change the calculus, and said she would like to see the whole of the EU now “de- Russify” its energy sector.
“This ongoing conflict and war convinces us all that we don’t need more blackmail tools from Gazprom and the Russian Federation,” she told POLITICO in an interview, referring to Moscow’s state gas export monopoly.
Moskwa’s remarks came on the heels of an intervention by Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki, who fumed last week that the Kremlin was simply turning its revenue from the sale of oil and gas into “aggression, invasion”. On Tuesday, Morawiecki called on Brussels to first add coal, then oil and gas to the list of banned imports from Russia. He added that Poland was ready to impose a coal embargo “even tomorrow”, but needed the Commission’s approval.
Poland has been preparing for years to minimize its dependence on Russian supplies. From 2023, its contracts with Gazprom run out and gas will start flowing from Norway via the new Baltic Pipe. It is also expanding its liquefied natural gas terminal in Świnoujście on the Baltic Sea and signing new contracts with more suppliers from countries like the United States and Qatar.
Currently, 55% of Poland’s gas imports come from Russia. The Baltic Pipe will allow Poland to import the same amount of gas it currently buys from Gazprom, according to Forum Energii, a think tank. Russia also supplies 75% of the coal imported by Poland.
Poland insists that this diversification model is transferable. “We are absolutely ready and we are ready to share our experience,” said Moskwa.
While the EU’s response has been weak in moving away from Russia in the past, it is now significant that Germany is also issuing at least similar ratings to Poland.
“Energy policy is security policy,” German Economy and Climate Action Minister Robert Habeck said ahead of a meeting of EU energy ministers on Monday. “Strengthening our energy sovereignty strengthens our security. Therefore, we must first overcome the heavy dependence on Russian imports of fossil fuels – a warmonger is not a reliable partner.
In perhaps its biggest sign that Berlin is ready to rethink its longstanding cozy relationship with Russian energy, the country has halted the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project to pump Gazprom’s gas directly into Germany.
Germany has also said it will soon build LNG terminals to reduce its dependence on Russian gas. And in a development that would have been unthinkable just a few days ago, politicians are also reopening a debate over whether the country’s nuclear power plants should operate longer than scheduled for disposal later this year – although a policy change is still highly unlikely.
In other signs of countries moving away from Russia, Helsinki-based energy company Helen, Finland’s largest district heating provider, has decided to boycott Russian coal. British Gas owner Centrica said it was working to “terminate our gas supply agreements with its Russian counterparts”. Other major energy companies are also looking to sell or limit their business involvement in Russia.
On Monday, EU energy ministers called on the Commission “to assess without delay other options to reduce dependence on a single supplier”. Moskwa said Brussels will release a “road map” on how to minimize energy dependence on Russia. But this is a long-term prospect because many countries are still too dependent on Moscow for raw materials.
The great challenge of a total break with Russia is that it would risk skyrocketing prices on a continent already in the grip of an inflationary bomb.
“Cutting Russian imports would at a minimum keep prices at extremely high levels and, most likely, if the ban were to last, push them up, especially during peak consumption periods,” Phuc- said. Vinh Nguyen, energy manager. research fellow at the Jacques Delors Institute.
He also stressed that the EU should look for alternative supplies, but added: “Annual Russian imports will not be fully covered by other sources and this will also require [EU] Member States to put in place self-sufficiency measures to immediately reduce energy demand.
Despite these costs, Moskwa said Poland would push for the inclusion of oil, gas and coal in the EU sanctions package, although such a move is adamantly opposed by countries like Italy.
“We would be able to take this decision, bearing in mind that today Ukraine is not only defending Ukraine, but… de facto defending all of Europe,” he said. she declared.
Moskwa admitted the bloc is unlikely to make such a strong move now, but added: “The issue of sanctions and positions are changing every day.”
“If we look at SWIFT: a few days ago it was not possible, two days ago it was possible,” she said, referring to measures to cut off access from the Russia to international payment system.
“We find that as the conflict continues, more flexibility emerges. So we’re hoping that commodity sanctions are the element that could arise. We will continue to lift, call and endorse, trusting that understanding will eventually come.”
Aitor Hernández-Morales contributed reporting.
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