Germany is once again under fire from its Western European and American allies for hesitating to sever business ties with Russia.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz and his government have argued that Germany will continue to buy billions of dollars in natural gas and oil from Russia every week for the foreseeable future, to keep German cars and factories running at full capacity, despite criticism in Ukraine and the West claims that the $ 220 million that Germany sends to Moscow every day for Russian energy is used, at least indirectly, to finance its war against Ukraine.
“We are pursuing a strategy that will make us independent of Russian gas, coal and oil, but not immediately,” said Robert Habeck, Germany’s economy and energy minister, in an interview with German television on Sunday night. Two hours later, the leader of the Social Democratic Party Scholz strengthened his spirits.
“An immediate embargo on Russian natural gas would be the wrong way to go,” Lars Klingbayl said on another German television talk show.
Germany counts on half of its energy needs on Russian energy resources.
In addition to criticism from the United States and Ukraine, others this week, including Poland, pounced on Germany for failing to bear its share of the economic burden.
In an interview with the German newspaper Welt Sunday, Jaroslav Kaczynski, leader of Poland’s ruling Law and Justice Party, demanded that Germany stop buying oil and natural gas from Russia.
“It is impossible to constantly support such a great state as Russia with billions in energy payments,” Kaczynski said. “This is unacceptable from a political and moral point of view. This needs to end, and Germany must finally take a clear position on this issue. “
The categorical refusal to ban the import of Russian oil and natural gas has become particularly inconvenient for Germany – Europe’s economic power – following accusations of Ukraine’s genocide in Bucha after Russian troops withdrew from the city. Because of the shame of the Holocaust and its Nazi past, Germany’s actions – or inaction – against moral leadership during the crisis are receiving particular attention across Europe.
Germany, which seeks a peaceful settlement of the conflict in part in response to its war-filled 20th century, faced widespread criticism before the war for initially refusing to send any defensive weapons to Ukraine in the wake of the impending Russian invasion, and therefore, it also blocked the transfer of German-made weapons from other NATO members to Ukraine. Germany has also faced criticism for initially opposing the disconnection of Russian banks from the global banking network SWIFT.
Lithuania announced on Sunday that it has banned the import of Russian energy, and Poland and Slovakia, among others, have called for swift action. The German government’s business explanations that it could not stop importing Russian energy by the end of this year – because the embargo could lead to a recession – have resonated across Europe. In early March, the United States said it had stopped all imports of Russian oil and energy in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
While the Scholz government says it cannot afford to immediately cut off supplies of Russian oil and natural gas, others in Germany are different.
“We must stop funding Putin’s war,” said Marie-Louise Beck, addressing the leaders of her Green Party and the ruling Social Democrats shortly after returning from a trip to Kyiv. “Ukraine has little time left. We need to see again how much [economic pain] we can handle it ourselves ”.
Others in the Green Party also called for an immediate embargo.
The renewed diversion of tougher sanctions against Russia by Germany threatens to further embarrass the country, which has long deepened business ties with Russia, even after the annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Earlier, the German government, led by Scholz’s Social Democrats, approved a business deal with Russia in 2015 – just a year after the capture of Crimea – to double the amount of Russian gas imported through the new Nord Stream-2 pipeline, which was completed in last year. The pipeline was designed, critics say, to bypass Ukraine and deprive it of billions of dollars in annual transit fees.
“For the whole world, and especially for Germany, the message should be clear – do not give Russia a penny, because it is blood money used to kill people,” – said Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko in an interview with German newspaper Bild on Monday. “We need an immediate embargo on all oil and natural gas from Russia.”
Ukraine’s ambassador to Germany, Andrei Melnik, said the alleged massacres in Bucha only reinforced Germany’s need to take the lead in Russia’s confrontation rather than focus on German-Russian business ties and its own economy.
“I hope that this massacre will be a red line for the German government to finally start operating,” Melnik said. “This means an immediate embargo on oil, natural gas, coal and metals. I don’t understand how anyone in Germany can sleep at night seeing such horrors without doing anything about it. What will it take for Germany to impose tougher sanctions? An attack with chemical weapons? What are they waiting for? ”
Last week, during a German TV interview with leading independent economists, Scholz was happy to believe that an immediate embargo on Russian gas would only slow but not cripple the German economy. “They were all wrong,” Scholz said sharply. “It is irresponsible to calculate such a mathematical model.”
The German Chancellor, noting that a large number of jobs are at stake, added: “If we suddenly stopped importing natural gas [from Russia]that would mean that entire industrial sectors would have to close. ”
Instead of banning Russian gas, German government leaders are considering energy-saving plans, such as imposing maximum speed limits on their high-speed highways, extending the use of the last three nuclear power plants scheduled for conservation this year, and increasing its use of coal-fired power plants.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has often come under sharp criticism from Ukraine and its ambassador for advocating business ties with Russia as a way to ensure peace in Europe. Steinmeier, a former foreign minister, admitted on Monday that he was wrong about Russia.
“We clung to the idea of building bridges to Russia, as our partners warned us,” Steinmeier said, apologizing for his support for the Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline, from which the United States and much of Europe warned Germany because it was increasing German language. dependence on Russian natural gas. “We have failed to build a common Europe. We failed to include Russia in our security architecture … I was wrong. “
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky criticized former Chancellor Angela Merkel and former French President Nicolas Sarkozy in a Sunday speech, inviting them to Bucha to see for themselves what is happening after 14 years of Russian concessions and leading opposition to Ukraine’s bid to join the North Atlantic Alliance. despite support for Kyiv’s bid by President George W. Bush.
“Former Chancellor Angela Merkel supports her decision at the 2008 NATO summit in Bucharest,” said Merkel’s spokeswoman, referring to her opposition to Ukraine’s bid.
Kirschbaum is a special correspondent.