A few thousand people lay on the grass in front of the Bundestag in Berlin on Wednesday evening. It’s quiet except for the clock on the podium and two women reading Ukrainian place names that have become symbols of Russian war crimes. “Mariupol. Kherson. Irbene. Bosha, Pusha, Pusha”.
“I am Butch”, Written on a cardboard banner with a boy lying on his side on a blanket. His mother puts a bandage on his mouth.
The people who gather in the Bundestag on Wednesday night want to remember the dead on the Ukrainian streets. Many hold hands.
A moment ago, it was more noisy in the grass. People are calling for a complete power ban, chanting “Em-bar-go, em-bar-go,” every syllable echoing from the Bundestag building facade. On signs and banners people wrote texts like Russia kills, Germany pays.
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Eminent Greens Ralph Fox sums up the attendees’ feelings: “Olav Schultz, what are you waiting for? Ukraine has run out of time.” Fox believes Germany is partly responsible for the war in Ukraine, because it has funded Russian armaments over the past 20 years. Every day that Germany waits to stop importing gas and oil, Ukraine pays more human lives, according to Fox.
In Germany, the call for a complete energy ban is growing, including within the alliance. Chancellor Olaf Schulz (SPD) has spoken out forcefully against such a ban in recent weeks, but is finding it increasingly difficult to maintain his position.
On Tuesday, the European Union announced a ban on the import of Russian coal, a measure that appears to be easily digestible for the German economy. On Wednesday, it also appeared that an oil import ban had been discussed in Brussels, which would already be more difficult for Germany, let alone a halt to Russian gas. The Ministry of Economics and Climate Affairs led by Robert Habeck (Greens) aims to be independent from Russian oil by the end of this year, but not from gas until the summer of 2024. In 2021, Germany paid a total of 21.5 billion euros to Russia for coal, oil and gas.
Germany relies more heavily on Russian energy sources than most other European countries – the country imports 55 percent of its gas from Russia – and a complete ban on imports now would put a huge strain on Germany’s industry and economy. Italy is also heavily dependent on Russian gas – about 40 percent is imported from Russia – but Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said he would not veto a European imposition on gas imports. In addition to Germany, Austria, Hungary and Slovakia strongly oppose the gas embargo.
The German position is also under increasing criticism from EU partners. In the European Parliament, Guy Verhofstadt, the former Belgian prime minister, accused Germany of suspending sanctions and showing no leadership. In Vilnius, Lithuania, people demonstrated in front of the German embassy to demand a power ban – also lying on the floor, hands tied behind their backs.
Damage to the German economy
Germany imports more than half of its coal from Russia, but coal can also be purchased from elsewhere, which is easy to transport. It is not easy to replace gas from Russia. HABC was on a mission in Doha at the end of March to import more liquid gas, LNG, from Qatar in the future. Germany does not yet have its own LNG terminals, which will now be urgently built.
Estimates of the damage to the German economy in the event of a Russian gas shutdown vary. One organization calculated that GDP will fall by 6 percent in 2022, and another at 2.5 percent. Chancellor Olaf Schultz publicly rebuked economists who came up with a more benign scenario — calling their models “irresponsible” on a talk show last week.
Economist Veronica Grimm, part of the German government’s main economic advisory body, has repeatedly warned in recent days that bartering should not be done on economic grounds alone. Grimm described the purely economic argument as “incomprehensible”. “There are economic, security and moral arguments for lowering payments to Putin,” she wrote on Twitter.
On the other hand, CEO Martin Brudermüller of chemicals group BASF, one of the country’s largest energy consumers, warned that a boycott would “clearly destroy the entire economy” in Germany. He believes that many Germans underestimate the dangers of such a boycott.
A version of this article also appeared on NRC on the morning of April 7, 2022
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