German Economy Minister Robert Habeck pinned the blame for the nation’s energy crunch and shift to dirty fuels on Russian President Vladimir Putin, who, according to the minister, “turned off the gas tap.” International observers dismissed Habeck’s remarks as utter nonsense while speaking to Sputnik.
“What else is left for Mr. Habeck to do? He cannot say that it were his actions that led to such unfortunate consequences for the German economy and for German consumers,” Alexey Grivach, deputy head of Russia’s National Energy Security Fund, told Sputnik.
“After all, it is precisely because of his rash actions that all German citizens are now suffering – and not only Germany, but the entire European Union. Therefore, Habeck has engaged in such a political, verbal balancing act, trying to convince someone that if there is no gas in the pipe, then Russia is to blame. But, fortunately, everyone knows perfectly well what really happened.”
Speaking to journalists last Friday, Habeck claimed that half of Germany’s entire gas supply had been stopped by Russia. He added that given that Nord Stream pipelines had been destroyed, Germany would not be able to get Russian fuel through them in the foreseeable future.
Done by Habeck’s Own Hands
Sputnik’s interlocutors have been perplexed by Habeck’s whining: it was Berlin that succumbed to Washington’s pressure last year and froze Gazprom’s Nord Stream 2 pipeline project that would have doubled the total capacity of the Nord Stream system from 55 billion cubic meters (bcm) to 110 bcm.
It was Robert Habeck, in propria persona, who on February 22, 2022, instructed the withdrawal of a security-of-supply assessment granted under former German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s tenure, which was required to authorize Nord Stream 2.
It was Habeck, again, who pledged in early May 2022 to replace all Russian energy imports, most notably natural gas, by as soon as mid-2024, following the beginning of Moscow’s special operation to demilitarize and de-Nazify Ukraine on February 24, 2022.
The minister gleefully announced at that time that Germany’s share of Russian gas had already dropped from 55% in 2021 to around 35% by mid-April 2022, adding that even faster progress was achieved for oil and coal where shares had dropped to 12% and 8%, respectively. To that end, Berlin leased four floating LNG terminals online to supply some 33 bcm/year, seeking to start operating the first of the Floating Storage Regasification Units (FSRU) in late 2022 and 2023.
Apparently, Germany did not resist the actions of Canada which slapped sanctions on Russia and had long refused to return a Gazprom turbine for Nord Stream’s gas equipment. Russia initially sent the turbine to Siemens Canada in Montreal for a scheduled overhaul.
However, in June 2022, Canada imposed restrictions on Russia’s energy companies, including Gazprom, and the turbine remained stuck in the North American country. That disrupted the Nord Stream system’s work and raised concerns about pre-planned maintenance service for the other five turbines. After back-and-forths, Ottawa agreed to issue a “time-limited and revocable permit” to exempt the return of the equipment.
“For some reason, this turbine was returned to Germany without the appropriate documents and guarantees that further maintenance of such turbines will be carried out in accordance with the obligations and not in some kind of sanctions mood,” Grivach noted.
Only in late August 2022, the Canadian authorities said that they would allow for the maintenance of the remaining five turbines used by the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, but the damage was done in terms of reducing the flow of natural gas from Russia to Germany.
A month later, a sabotage attack destroyed three out of Gazprom’s four Nord Stream pipelines. So far, neither Germany nor its European peers have lifted a finger to initiate repair works. This apparently indicates that they don’t need Russian gas, remarked Alexey Fenenko, associate professor of the Department of International Security, Faculty of World Politics of Moscow State University.
Furthermore, following the September 2022 sabotage, European leaders immediately pointed the finger of blame at Russia and did not allow Moscow’s specialists to participate in EU investigations into the blast.
However, in December 2022, the US mainstream press quoted European officials and investigators as saying that they had not found any evidence confirming Russia’s guilt. They admitted that Moscow would have nothing to gain from blasting its own pipelines and agreed that there had been plenty of international players interested in Nord Stream’s destruction. Nonetheless, western journalists and European officials have not made any step to name potential suspects.
“It is clear that if it were Russia, as some had the audacity to assert, then they would have proved it very quickly. But, apparently, the facts indicate some very unpleasant, and maybe even some taboo topics,” Grivach remarked.
Yes, Germany Can Still Receive Russian Gas
Habeck’s gloomy sentiment with regard to Germany’s prospects of receiving Russia’s gas is sly, according to Sputnik’s interlocutors.
First, in October 2022, Russian President Vladimir Putin signaled his readiness to deliver gas to Germany through a Nord Stream pipeline not damaged by the blast. “It has a capacity of 27.5 billion cubic meters per year, which is about eight percent of all gas imports to Europe,” Putin stated on October 12, 2022, stressing that the ball is in Europe’s court. “Russia is ready for the start of these deliveries (…) If [European leaders] want it – they have to turn on the tap, and that’s it.”
Second, the same month, Moscow suggested creating a new gas hub in Turkey capable of delivering the fuel to the Old Continent.
Third, Russia is ready to restore gas supplies through other gas pipelines, as Vladislav Belov, deputy director of the Institute of Europe of the Russian Academy of Sciences and head of the Center for German Studies told Sputnik.
“Germany still has every opportunity to receive [Russian gas],” said Belov. “There is the Yamal-Europe gas pipeline, blocked by Poland, there is a gas pipeline through Ukraine, but it has reduced pumping through it by 40%. Germany has ample opportunity to put pressure on its allies. In addition, there is also the Turkish Stream, through which Russia fully fulfills all its obligations. In general, Russia is ready to supply gas to Germany, but the Germans themselves turned the tap off. It is up to them to be able to get as much gas as they need to keep their homes warm, to fill storage facilities and get gas at the prices that are currently on the spot market.”
It Was Europe’s Decision to Axe Russia’s Gas Supplies
The dramatic reduction of Russia’s gas supplies to Europe is the result of a political decision by EU member states, according to observers.
For his part, former Greek Energy Minister Panagiotis Lafazanis noted in an interview with Sputnik that he fully supports the position of former Austrian Vice-Chancellor Strache, who said that the German authorities are afraid to tell their own population the truth about the real reasons for rising gas and electricity prices and about a possible shortage of energy resources.
“Europe is paying a high price for the expensive natural gas it now has to buy,” said Lafazanis, adding that Europe itself is entirely responsible for the consequences of its energy policy and shift to LNG.
What’s more interesting, some European countries are continuing to buy Russia’s energy commodities nonetheless, Stepan noted.
“For example, Russian LNG is bought by France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Spain and, of course, the United States are continuing to buy Russian LNG,” Stepan said. “The same applies to Russian oil. The UK claims it does not import anything from Russia, and suddenly there is news in the newspapers that several tankers with Russian oil will arrive in Britain (…) It turns out that there’s a double standard approach: on the one hand, politicians issue statements, and on the other hand, in practice, governments pretend that they know nothing about their companies continuing to import Russian raw materials, or they themselves violate their regulations.”
The allegations that Russia “weaponized” its energy supplies repeatedly voiced by western politicians look ridiculous to say the least, according to Sputnik’s interlocutors.
Moreover, Europe’s energy crisis started long before the Russian special operation in Ukraine, which is routinely cited as one of the causes behind spiking gas prices, according to Mehmet Dogan, a Turkish energy expert and CEO of energy consulting agency GazDay.
“Even before the aggravation of the situation in Ukraine, everyone was talking about the threat of an energy crisis,” Dogan told Sputnik. “Gas prices skyrocketed even before the outbreak of hostilities.”
“The gas crisis in Europe began even before the escalation in Ukraine. It was based on a sharp rise in prices for blue fuel. But European countries have tried to make Russia and Putin responsible for this crisis,” echoed Turkish energy expert Volkan Aslanoglu, stressing that Habeck’s recent statement appears to be completely detached from reality.
Russia Supplying EU Despite Sanctions & Military Aid to Kiev
There is yet another aspect to the ongoing debate that is rarely touched upon, according to Alexey Fenenko. The Russian academic considers Habeck’s remark about the blocking of the “gas valve” by Russia strange, given the intention of the EU to defeat the Russian Federation in an economic war.
Moreover, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz made it clear at the latest World Economic Forum in Davos that to end the conflict in Ukraine Russia’s special military operation “must fail.” To that end, Germany and other western countries provide the Kiev regime with heavy weapons as long as needed, according to Scholz.
Indeed, the German media has reported that Berlin is now planning to send its Leopard 2 tanks to Kiev, something that the German leadership had been previously reluctant to do. Earlier this month, Berlin vowed to supply Ukraine with armored personnel carriers and a Patriot missile battery. In addition, on January 15, expanded combat training of Ukrainian forces kicked off in Germany, according to the US press.
European leaders have stepped up supplies of weapons to Kiev since the beginning of Russia’s special military operation with prominent leaders rubbishing the idea of a diplomatic solution to the conflict, rather claiming that it should be sorted out on the battlefield.
All this time, despite EU bellicose rhetoric and their de facto participation in the Russo-Ukrainian conflict, Russia’s energy producers continued to observe their obligations and supply Europe with natural gas, oil and petroleum products.
Russia is still warming up the Old Continent, be it direct oil and gas exports or ensuring the flow of energy carriers through its territory, energy expert Milos Zdravkovic told Sputnik. Moscow is signaling openness and readiness to provide Europe with energy, even though Russia has enough lucrative opportunities in Asia.
European Gamble Doesn’t Bode Well
Meanwhile, EU economic prospects don’t look good, according to Zdravkovic. He noted that the EU does not know what energy prices will be in the foreseeable future both for heating and the needs of industry. European goods are set to become much more expensive than those produced by Asians and Americans due to turbulent gas costs. This will adversely affect the economy of Europe, Zdravkovic warned.
“Europe consumed at least 500 billion cubic meters (bcm) a year,” Zdravkovic explained. “Its consumption grew by about 10 bcm per year.”
In 2021, the EU imported 83% of its natural gas with Russia delivering over 40% of this volume. Given that, it’s impossible to swiftly replace Russia’s gas with LNG supplies, according to Zdravkovic.
“The capacity of the total fleet of LNG tankers and all terminals on our planet, on all continents, is 400 bcm,” the Serbian energy expert noted, adding that European leaders shouldn’t expect that these volumes will all go to the Old Continent.
Moreover, a complete shift to American LNG would require building the appropriate infrastructure, according to Alexey Fenenko. One should also add fuel costs for tankers which will carry LNG from the US to Europe when supplies become regular. All these costs will make energy pretty expensive for Europeans, the Russian scholar remarked.
Of course, European countries could also switch to coal and nuclear energy, but it will take at least ten years for them to reorient to these sources of energy, Fenenko added.
“Every cloud has its silver lining,” said Zdravkovic. “I am convinced that at the end of this crisis (…), no one will ever be able to force large European economies, EU civilians and inhabitants of [the Old Continent] to join such a gamble again. I think this will definitely never happen again and that in the future there will be much more cooperation.”