The German government is facing mounting pressure at home and abroad to introduce an energy embargo against Russia as reports of atrocities committed against Ukrainian civilians in Bucha increased the urgency of calls for action.
Berlin has so far rejected calls for an outright ban on energy imports from Russia, warning that the consequences for Europe’s largest economy and the entire European Union would be devastating. Yet discussions are rife about industry cutting production times to save energy, while ordinary Germans are being urged to lower their thermostats and drive more slowly.
Pressure from Germany’s neighbors has been mounting, particularly the Baltic states and Poland. Mateusz Morawiecki, the prime minister of Poland, accused on Monday Germany to “stand in the way” of tougher sanctions against Russia. “Anyone who reads the notes of the EU meetings knows that Germany is the biggest impediment when it comes to more decisive sanctions,” he told reporters in Warsaw.
A German government spokesman said it would not consider an immediate energy embargo but was determined to speed up its efforts to wean Germany off Russian oil and gas.
“An immediate embargo with the suspension of gas deliveries would hurt the German economy considerably more than Putin’s economy,” Oliver Krischer of the Ministry of Economy and Climate Protection said Monday morning.
“After these images from the weekend, we will see once again how we can reduce our dependency more quickly and with more measures,” he said. Efforts are being made to introduce a “quasi-embargo,” she said, through “no-buy” and “energy-saving” measures, as well as “diversification,” including the purchase of liquefied petroleum gas.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said the atrocities – in which hundreds of civilians are believed to have been killed north of kyiv – would not go unanswered, calling them war crimes, and promised on Sunday night that Germany, together with its partners, would be increased penalties against Russia in the coming days.
Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht went further, saying it was time for the EU to jointly discuss the option of a total ban on Russian gas. “There must be an answer,” she said in a television interview. “Such crimes cannot go unanswered.
Opinion polls have shown that the majority of Germans (between 55% and 77%) are in favor of stopping gas imports from Russia, despite the impact it could have on their ability to heat their own homes. Most said they were also in favor of temporarily increasing the lifespan of coal plants and making nuclear power plants: the elimination of which began after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan in 2011, operational again.
As a whole, Europe gets around 40% of its gas supplies from Russia. In Germany, the figure is 55%, the highest dependency of any European state. The EU gets 25% of its oil from Russia. The sanctions could be discussed by EU foreign ministers on the sidelines of a NATO meeting on Wednesday and Thursday.
French President Emmanuel Macron said on Monday he was in favor of a new round of sanctions targeting Russia’s oil and coal sectors, but did not call for the EU to ban gas imports.
Macron was appointed by Morawiecki when he called on European leaders to do more against Russia. “President Macron, how many times has he negotiated with Putin? What have you achieved? … Would you negotiate with Hitler, with Stalin, with Pol Pot? he asked him.
“Chancellor Scholz, Olaf, it is not the voices of German business that should be heard loudly in Berlin today. It is the voice of these innocent women and children.”
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on Sunday accused former German Chancellor Angela Merkel and former French President Nicolas Sarkozy of contributing to Russian aggression by making too many concessions to Putin.
“I invite Mrs. Merkel and Mr. Sarkozy to visit Bucha and see with their own eyes where the policy of making concessions to Russia for more than 14 years has led. You will see Ukrainian men and women tortured with your own eyes,” she said in her late-night video address to Ukrainians.
In particular, he criticized Merkel for not backing Ukraine’s attempts to join NATO in 2008.
Merkel’s office responded unusually quickly to the criticism. In a statement, a spokesman said: “Retired German Chancellor Dr. Angela Merkel stands by her decision along with the NATO summit in Bucharest in 2008.” The spokesman added that Merkel supported all efforts by the German government to stop Russia’s invasion, especially in light of the “atrocities in Bucha and other parts of Ukraine.”
German Economics Minister Robert Habeck, who as leader of the Greens has pushed for years for the abolition of coal plants and the scrapping of nuclear power plants, said Germany was working to reduce its reliance on energy. but that this could not happen overnight. .
“We are working every day to create the preconditions and pave the way for an embargo,” he said when asked if the news of the killing of civilians in Bucha would lead to a rethink of the government. “This is also, in the opinion of the federal government, as well as in my own opinion, the way forward and one that harms Putin on a daily basis.”