The German government is facing growing pressure at home and abroad to introduce an energy embargo against Russia as reports of atrocities against Ukrainian civilians in Bucha have heightened the urgency of calls to action.
Berlin has so far pushed back on calls for an outright ban on energy imports from Russia, warning that the consequences for Europe’s biggest economy and the entire European Union would be devastating. However, there is plenty of talk about cutting industry production times to save energy, while ordinary Germans are urged to lower thermostats and drive slower.
A German government spokesman said it would not consider an immediate embargo but was determined to speed up efforts to wean Germany off Russian gas and oil.
“An immediate embargo with a halt in gas supplies would harm the German economy much more than Putin’s economy,” said Oliver Krischer of the Ministry of Economics and Climate Protection on Monday morning.
“After these images from the weekend, we will once again see how we can more quickly, and using additional measures, reduce our addiction,” he said. Efforts are being made to introduce a ‘quasi-embargo’, he said, through ‘non-purchasing’ and ‘energy-saving measures’ as well as ‘diversification’, including buying of liquefied petroleum gas.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said the atrocities – in which hundreds of civilians were reportedly murdered north of kyiv – would not go unaddressed, calling them war crimes, and promised on Sunday evening that Germany , along with its partners, would be increasing sanctions against Russia in the coming days.
Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht then went further, saying it was time for the European Union to discuss the option of a full Russian gas ban together. “There must be an answer,” she said in a TV interview. “Such crimes cannot go unanswered.”
Opinion polls have shown that the majority of Germans – between 55% and 77% – favor stopping gas imports from Russia, despite the impact this could have on their ability to heat their own lodging. The majority also said they were in favor of temporarily extending the life of coal-fired power plants and bringing nuclear plants back into service – the closure of which began after the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan in 2011.
Overall, Europe gets about 40% of its gas supplies from Russia. In Germany, the figure is 55%, the highest dependency of any European state.
Pressure from Germany’s neighbors has increased, especially the Baltic States and Poland. Mateusz Morawiecki, the Polish Prime Minister, on Monday accused Germany of “obstructing” tougher sanctions against Russia. “Anyone who reads the notes from EU meetings knows that Germany is the biggest obstacle when it comes to more decisive sanctions,” he told reporters in Warsaw.
On Sunday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy 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 concessions to Russia has led in more than 14 years. You will see tortured Ukrainian men and women with your own eyes,” he said in his nightly video address to Ukrainians.
In particular, he criticized Merkel for not supporting Ukraine’s attempts to join NATO in 2008.
Merkel’s office responded with unusual speed to criticism. In a statement, a spokesperson said: “Retired German Chancellor Dr. Angela Merkel stands by her decision in conjunction with the NATO summit in Bucharest in 2008.” The spokesperson added that Merkel supports all efforts by the German government to stop the Russian invasion, especially in light of the “atrocities in Bucha and other parts of Ukraine”.
German Economy Minister Robert Habeck, who as a green leader lobbied for years for the abolition of coal-fired power stations and the scrapping of nuclear power plants, said Germany will was trying to reduce its dependence on Russian energy, but that 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 news of the killing of civilians in Bucha would lead to a rethinking of the government. “It is also, in the eyes of the federal government, as well as in my opinion, the way forward and the way that hurts Putin on a daily basis.”