Germany resists pressure to throttle Russian energy imports

Decision to continue buying Russian energy as before attacked by opposition CDU

German chancellor Olaf Scholz and minister for economy and climate Robert Habeck. Photograph: Clemens Bilan/EPA

German prosecutors have begun collating evidence of Russian war crimes in Ukraine as Berlin came under growing pressure on Tuesday to break its dependency on Russian coal, gas and oil.

As Russia threatened to throttle Europe’s gas supply via the Nord Stream 1 pipeline, German federal justice minister Marco Buschmann responded with a promise to “collect and secure all evidence of war crimes”. He said Russia’s attack on Ukraine was “a serious violation of international law that cannot be justified by anything”.

Germany’s prosecutors have confirmed they have begun a so-called “structural investigation” which does not target particular suspects, but gathers evidence of suspected crimes and works to identify the structures behind them, such as the chain of command.

Prosecutors were spurred into action by news of targeted residential buildings and the use of cluster bombs, but such medium-term legal strategies against Russia are increasingly overshadowed by Germany’s short-term energy concerns.


Both chancellor Olaf Scholz and his federal economic minister Robert Habeck have dismissed any expectations that Germany would follow others and drop Russian energy.

“Europe’s supply cannot be guaranteed any other way,” said Mr Scholz, something that applies in particular to his own country.

Some 64 per cent of Germany’s energy is imported and, of the 15 per cent derived from natural gas, 55 per cent comes from Russia. One third of German oil and 45 per cent of its coal comes from Russia, too.

At an emergency meeting with state economic ministers on Tuesday, federal minister Robert Habeck said Germany was anxious to decouple from Russian energy in the medium term. Ministers agreed to keep decommissioned coal-burning energy in reserve for emergencies but Mr Habeck insisted that Germany would close its final two nuclear power plants as planned this year. The minister said he “didn’t reckon with” a halt of Russian gas, as threatened on Tuesday.

“If it comes to that, Russia would be an undependable supplier and, when things calm down, Europe will not come back and the Russians know that,” he said.


The decision to continue buying Russian energy as before has come under attack from leading figures in Germany’s opposition Christian Democratic Union (CDU). Its foreign policy spokesman  Norbert Röttgen said that, as a leading energy customer, Germany was “pouring €1 billion into Putin’s war chest”. On national radio Mr Röttgen said an embargo was “doable and necessary” and a way to throttle a “decisive lifeline of the regime”.

Other leading politicians remain opposed to such a move, saying any effort to cut economic ties, saying a Russia not trading with the West would be even more unpredictable.

Across the border in Poland, the government had passed a Bill granting 18 months’ legal residency to over a million Ukrainians who have arrived in recent days. This will allow them access public services including healthcare, childcare and schools as well as entitle them to a monthly family allowance of 500 zloty (€100). Poles who take in Ukrainian families will receive 40 zloty per person per day. The money will be payable from a new “special-purpose reserve fund”, accessible to local government.

Derek Scally

Derek Scally

Derek Scally is an Irish Times journalist based in Berlin