Germany Averse to Immediately Cutting Off Russian Energy Imports, Finance Minister Urges Patience

Germany Averse to Immediately Cutting Off Russian Energy Imports, Finance Minister Urges Patience
German Finance Minister Christian Lindner speaks during a budget session in the plenary hall of the lower house of the German parliament, the Bundestag, in Berlin on March 22, 2022. (Michele Tantussi/Reuters)
Naveen Athrappully

Though Germany is moving “as fast as possible” to end its dependence on Russian energy supplies, such a move cannot be implemented soon, according to Christian Lindner, the country's finance minister.

“We have to be patient,” Lindner said in an interview with the BBC. “We are willing to stop all energy imports from Russia, it's just a matter of time.”

Any assumption by Russian President Vladimir Putin that Germany will continue being reliant on Russian energy is “wrong” as Berlin does not want “any further business” with the Russian leader, Lindner said. However, he warned that a sudden halt to energy imports from Russia could result in the shutdown of German manufacturers and cause negative macroeconomic effects.

“I don't fear [the] economic costs [of buying less Russian energy]. I fear the physical scenario, if you have to stop the supply, for a complete production line, this causes more than economic costs,” he said. “I think it's preferable to have sanctions, which we can stand for months, for years.”

Lindner criticized previous governments for relying on Russian gas and oil, insisting that it was a “strategic miscalculation.” He blamed Russia’s invasion of Ukraine for the increasing geopolitical and economic risks such as inflation and the debt crises in poor nations, as well as growing food shortages.

Germany imports about 40 percent of its gas and 25 percent of its oil from Russia. Moscow makes about $1 billion daily by selling oil and gas, thereby blunting the impact of Western sanctions aimed at pressuring the Kremlin to end its war.

Germany called off the opening of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project with Russia following the invasion.

The country’s exports to Russia fell by 57.5 percent in March 2022 due to sanctions. As a result, Russia became the 12th biggest export market for Berlin outside the European Union, down from the fifth spot in February.

Lindner made similar arguments in an interview with German newspaper Die Zeit in March, CNN reported.

“The question is, at what point do we do more harm to Putin than to ourselves?” Lindner said. “If I could only follow my heart, there would be an immediate embargo on everything. However, it is doubtful that this would stop the war machine in the short term.”

Contradicting Lindner, German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock announced on April 20 that Germany will fully stop importing Russian oil by the end of 2022. This will be followed by ending Russian gas imports, she added.

Any significant block of Russian energy supplies could seriously worsen Germany’s inflation, which reached its highest level in over four decades in March 2022.

The EU is attempting to cut off Russian gas imports by 66 percent in 2022, aiming to become completely free of Russian energy by 2027. However, German unions and employers have opposed EU plans to ban Russian natural gas imports.

“A rapid gas embargo would lead to loss of production, shutdowns, a further deindustrialization and the long-term loss of work positions in Germany,” said Rainer Dulger, chairman of the BDA employer’s group, and Reiner Hoffmann, chairman of the DGB trade union confederation, in a joint statement on April 18.
Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.