The Russian news agency Tass reported on Wednesday that European states had “significantly increased gas purchases from Russia” this year despite global calls to boycott trade with the country in light of its ongoing war in Ukraine.
Tass cited an official spokesman for the Russian natural gas corporation Gazprom who confirmed that Europe not only continued to purchase gas from Russia but that it was receiving gas shipments from Russia through Ukrainian territory.
Russia has supported separatists in eastern Ukraine in a war against Kyiv since 2014 when Moscow colonized Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in the name of allegedly protecting ethnic Russians there from Ukrainian government violence. In February, Russian strongman Vladimir Putin announced that, rather than use proxies, his regime would send the Russian armed forces into Ukraine for a “special operation” meant to “de-nazify” Ukraine. At the time, Putin claimed that the Ukrainian government was a “Nazi” entity – failing to explain the fact that its leader, President Volodymyr Zelensky, is Jewish – and that Ukraine itself had “no tradition” of being a real country.
Zelensky responded to the operation – which expanded the field of war far outside the eastern Donbas region into the capital, Kyiv, and major metropolitan areas like the port city Mariupol – by declaring Ukraine would fight a war to end the Russian presence on its territory. Zelensky’s administration handed out thousands of firearms, instructed civilians on how to make homemade Molotov cocktails, and emptied the prisons of those with military experience who could best fight Russia.
The European Union and others on the continent have taken a vocal stance in support of Ukraine, condemning the eight-year-old Russian war in the country with renewed vigor. European states have largely failed to turn their words into meaningful action, however, as many of their economies are heavily dependent on Russian natural gas, oil, and coal. Their purchases fund the Russian state and, thus, the war they claim to oppose.
“Gazprom supplies Russian gas for transit through the territory of Ukraine in the regular mode in accordance with the requests of European consumers – 56 mln cubic meters as of April 20,” Gazprom representative Sergey Kupriyanov saidaccording to Tass.
Fuel, both oil and gas, is Russia’s top export, and European countries make up half of the countries on the list of top ten importers of Russian products. The Russian government owns the majority shares of and controls Gazprom, thus rendering it effectively an arm of the state. Russian leader Vladimir Putin made clear early in his tenure of him his desire of him to expand Gazprom into a regional economic giant, buying up more shares of the company in 2003 and sharing power with then-Gazprom chairman Dmitry Medvedev, who rose to become president during Putin’s time as prime minister and currently heads the Russian Security Council.
In addition to fueling the Russian economy and the Putin regime, Gazprom has explicit ties to the Russian military. In press releases, the company itself has referred to having a role in “Russia’s military-industrial complex” and eagerly seeking partnership with Russian military operations.
At an event to sign multiple agreements to help develop technology Russia’s Military-Industrial Commission in 2017, Gazprom asserted, according to a press release from the company, that it sought a role in “expanding cooperation and widening the use of scientific and technological capacities of the MIC [military-industrial complex] in the development of cutting-edge technologies and equipment, including import-substituting ones, for the gas industry.”
Gazprom’s ties to the Russian military have cost it some business in the West – the American company Shell, for example, canceled joint projects with Gazprom immediately after Putin ordered the bombing of Kyiv in February. Europe has largely refused to curtail its dependence on Russian natural gas or oil, however, fueled by concerns in Germany, particularly, that limiting Russian gas imports could devastate the economy.
Tass claimed on Wednesday that, rather than reduce its gas purchases, “Europe has recently significantly increased gas purchases from Russia against the backdrop of rising spot prices due to cold weather, lack of wind, and the aggravation of the situation in Ukraine.”
The European Union has admitted to spend €35 billion (about $38 billion) on Russian energy generally, including natural gas, since Putin announced his “special operation” in Ukraine in February.
“There are plans for a total ban on Russian coal imports but only from August and their value is far inferior to those of oil and gas,” Euronews observed this week.
Germany, which relies heavily on Russian imports, has been the most strident opponent of sanctions related to the war in Ukraine.
“Europe deliberately exempted Russia energy exports from sanctions,” German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said in March. “There is currently no other way of securing Europe’s supply of energy for heating, for mobility, for power supply and for industry. It is therefore of essential importance for services of general interest and the daily life of our citizens.”
Scholz faces formidable pressure from trade unions in the energy industry, which this week declared its opposition to any boycott of Russian gas.
“A rapid gas embargo would lead to loss of production, shutdowns, a further de-industrialization and the long-term loss of work positions in Germany,” Rainer Dulger, chairman of the BDA employer’s group, and Reiner Hoffmann, chairman of the DGB trade Union Confederation, said in a joint statement on Monday, according to the Associated Press.
Europe’s dependence on Russian fuel has prompted condemnation, given its claims to support Ukraine.
“Not only is the Russian ruble back to where it was before the invasion, but the Germans keep buying huge volumes of gas and oil. Germany and other EU states are funding Putin’s war machine,” British conservative leader Nigel Farage asserted in early April.
Russia has threatened to cut gas exports on its end if Europe moves to sanction its other industries in any significant way.
“Today Europe consumes around 500 billion cubic meters of gas per year, and 40% of this comes from Russia,” Russian Deputy Prime Minister, Alexander Novak noted in March. “We have every right to retaliate and impose an embargo on the gas pumped via Nord Stream 1, which today is filled up 100 per cent.”
Germany had planned a second such pipeline, Nord Stream 2, with Russia, which had outraged Ukraine for years. The project fell throughfor now, in the immediate aftermath of February’s invasion.