Tuesday, May 24, 2022

Ukraine crisis highlights German dependence on Russian oil

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Russia’s imminent threat of a Ukrainian invasion has reopened Cold War-era wounds and left world leaders scrambling to shore up NATO ties to present a united European front. 

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken took a steadfast tone Friday following talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, telling reporters any Russian invasion would be “met with a swift, severe and united response.” 

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Blinken’s promise of a united front comes after reports surfaced in recent weeks that suggested Germany may be backtracking its support for sanctioning the Nord Stream 2 pipeline if Russia violates Ukraine’s sovereignty. 

Germany’s new Chancellor Olaf Scholz attempted to set the record straight this week and said the newly appointed government stood by the U.S.-Germany agreement forged in July 2021 between President Biden and former Chancellor Angela Merkel. 

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz delivers a speech during a meeting of the German federal parliament, Bundestag, at the Reichstag building in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, Dec. 15, 2021. 
(AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

Both parties agreed to allow the continued construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which will funnel gas into Germany from Russia, so long as the Kremlin does not abuse the pipeline for political gains. 

The U.S. and other NATO-member nations have threatened harsh economic sanctions, including on the pipeline, if Russian President Vladimir Putin invades the former Soviet nation.

But comments made by Biden in an address to the nation Wednesday suggested NATO was not yet united in its willingness to punish Putin through the new pipeline. 

“It depends on what he does, as to the exact … extent we’re going to be able to get total unity … on the NATO front,” Biden said. 

Stefanie Babst, a former senior NATO official, also claimed in an article for the German Council on Foreign Relations this month that there was little appetite in Germany to sanction the pipeline. 

“A considerable part of the public thinks that Russia should be granted an exclusive zone of influence in exchange for keeping up gas supplies,” Babst wrote.

Germany has become dependent on Russia for much of its energy sector needs. 

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According to the Federal Office for Economic Affairs and Export Control (BAFA), Germany received 34% of its crude oil needs from Russia in 2021 during the months of January through October. It also received 53% of its hard coal needed to fuel German power generators and steelmakers, from its northern neighbor last year, reported Reuters.

President Biden listens to a question during a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022.

President Biden listens to a question during a news conference in the East Room of the White House in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2022.
(AP Photo/Susan Walsh)

“Berlin’s reliance on Russian energy sources is too high, and it leads us to these unfortunate situations where Germany may not be as on board with what most of the other members of the alliance are willing to impose on Russia,” President of Institute of World Politics and former Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, James Anderson, told Fox News Digital.

Though it’s not only Germany that is reliant on Russian oil. 

The European Union reported that in the second quarter of 2021 Russia was the top gas supplier to Europe, pumping in 42% of the continent’s gas imports. 

Anderson pointed to Germany’s decision to shutter its nuclear plants by 2022 — a decision reached by Merkel following the 2011 Fukushima disaster in Japan — as another indicator that German reliance on Russian oil could prove problematic.  

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“This is what I would say is almost a self-inflicted wound by Germany,” Anderson said. “They’ve made extensive investment in solar power, and they did so even though Germany is renowned for cloud cover.”

“The degree to which a country can be confident about its own energy sources is a really important thing in the 21st century,” he added. 

Former German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends a ceremony to receive the Buber-Rosenzweig medal at the Chancellery on Aug. 30, 2021 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Andreas Gora - Pool/Getty Images)

Former German Chancellor Angela Merkel attends a ceremony to receive the Buber-Rosenzweig medal at the Chancellery on Aug. 30, 2021 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Andreas Gora – Pool/Getty Images)

But senior fellow and director of Foreign and Defense Policy Studies at the American Enterprise Institute, Kori Schake, told Fox News Digital that she is less concerned by the German public’s opposition to Nord Stream 2 pipeline sanctions, and noted Berlin has been dependent on Russian gas since the 1970s.

Schake, who also worked for the Department of Defense on NATO issues involving German-Soviet relations during the end of the Cold War, said the German government needs to explain to its public why standing with NATO over lowering gas prices is in its best interest.

“The German government hasn’t yet engaged its own public in explaining why they need to do this,” she said. “If they allow Russia to be a predator in Europe, Russia will continue to drive the costs of energy up, and maybe now’s the time to reduce our reliance even if we pay a price in the near term.”

Schake also argued Germany’s benefits to maintaining a strong alliance with NATO outweigh the short-term ease of lower gas prices. 

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“We have done a lot to make Germany safe and prosperous, and NATO expansion moved the risk that Russia poses to Germany further east — the Baltic States, Poland, Hungary, Bulgaria, are the frontline states to Russian aggression.”

“That has made Germany a major beneficiary of the current European security order,” she added. 

Schake said she is confident NATO will stand united against Russian aggression. 

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