Vice Chancellor Robert Habeck complains that “Putin has cut off” Berlin’s gas supplies as he looks for alternatives.
The German town of Brunsbuttel, near Hamburg, received a new floating liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal on Friday, another step in the country’s search to replace the gas supplies it now can’t get from Russia.
Small protests in the vicinity of the port held by locals unhappy with the new facility belied the official fanfare. Meanwhile, wider criticism has been levelled against Berlin’s efforts to boost gas imports by both land and sea, which climate activists believe to be very environmentally unfriendly.
German Vice Chancellor and Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Climate Action Robert Habeck, of the Green Party, said the new terminal was necessary because “half of the gas supply to Germany stopped, because [Russian President Vladimir] Putin has cut it off. Now the supply has been stopped completely and it will not come back to us.”
Except that’s not how it all went down.
Nearly a year ago, just before the Ukraine conflict turned hot and as German Chancellor Olaf Scholz stopped the approval process for the Nord Stream 2 pipeline from Russia to Germany and into Europe, Habeck was already keen to give Russian gas the boot. He told public radio that the country could go without it. The comment promptly raised eyebrows in the Western press, with Bloomberg, for example, calling the proposition “tricky.”
Habeck’s Greens, and the German government more generally, have long been obsessed with renewables. The Ukraine conflict was merely an excuse to double down. Even the International Energy Agency took note of this back in March 2022. “Progress towards net zero ambitions in Europe will bring down gas use and imports over time,” according to an IEA report.
In April, Habeck said, “We are working actively to become independent on fossil fuels from Russia,” and cited “great progress.” Not once, but twice, Habeck publicly declared that he had reduced his shower time, in what had become both a means of saving energy and also of sticking it to Putin, a gesture reminiscent of the folks who pull on escalator handrails thinking that they’re helping move all the people to the top. Habeck said that such measures would “annoy Putin.” Actually, it mostly just annoyed Germans and Europeans.
Habeck appeared alongside European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen at a meeting of bloc representatives in Versailles on March 8, when she said, “We must become independent from Russian oil, coal and gas.” Habeck echoed the sentiment: “All the German government’s, the country’s, efforts are going toward reducing this dependency as quickly as possible and then using the energy policy room for maneuver we have gained, including in security policy terms.”
The EU also imposed several rounds of sanctions targeting Russia’s financial system and banks, which included cutting some of the country’s biggest banks off from the SWIFT payment system. In light of the sanctions, Moscow requested payment for gas in rubles. The EU Commission subsequently set about trying to issue guidelines for countries to keep paying for Russian gas without violating the bloc’s own sanctions or paying in rubles.
By July, as Nord Stream, the gas lifeline representing one of Europe’s last hopes for Russian gas, was shut down for maintenance, Habeck was begging Canada to release a part for the pipeline that was caught up in the West’s own sanctions. Then, in September, both the Nord Stream 1 and 2 pipelines were mysteriously blown up. Berlin still remains tight-lipped on the findings of its investigation.
With dwindling options for gas as a result of European shenanigans, Germany has scrambled for alternatives. “With the help of these three power stations we will get back at least a quarter of what we lost,” Habeck said last week on NDR TV in reference to new liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminals. But who’s the primary beneficiary of that? For years, Washington has been pressuring Germany to divorce itself from the cheap Russian gas that powered it and the EU – and allowed the bloc to compete economically with the US. This pressure included measures such as sanctions against Nord Stream 2 as it approached completion. But squeezing out Russian gas has long been a US priority, as evidenced by the ‘Protect European Energy Security Act’ introduced by the US Congress in 2019. Did it not strike European leaders as odd that Washington was so “concerned” about its use of Russian gas, or how Washington benefits from sticking its nose into the matter?
One could argue that the US is just acting like a concerned friend. The kind of friend who tells you that they don’t like your current dating partner, encourages you to break up, and then makes their move on you the minute you split.
Biden put the moves on Europe early. He visited Brussels back in March and promised to supply Europe with LNG. But Europe apparently didn’t know that the new partner would be the kind that takes you on a date and then sticks you with the bill. French President Emmanuel Macron has repeatedly complained that US LNG exported to Europe costs two to four times the US domestic price. But who cares about the fine print, right?
Unfortunately, an overt focus on ideology – both green and anti-Russian – has made the EU’s economic engine, Germany, so tunnel-visioned and lacking in foresight that it’s now resorting to firing up the (t)rusty ol’ coal plants and extending the lives of nuclear facilities marked to be shuttered. Habeck promoting them as the future of energy security – you know, at least until they can find something better – is like the guy who went crawling back to his ex while continuing to openly fantasize about supermodels.
Image credit: Mike Van Schoonderwalt