The German government is facing growing pressure at home and abroad to introduce an energy embargo against Russia as reports of atrocities committed on Ukrainian civilians in Bucha increased the urgency of calls for action.
Berlin has so far pushed back on appeals for an outright ban on energy imports from Russia, warning that the consequences for Europe’s largest economy and the entire European Union would be devastating. However, discussions are widespread about reducing industry production times to save energy, while ordinary Germans are being urged to turn down thermostats and drive more slowly.
Pressure from Germany’s neighbours has been growing, particularly the Baltic states and Poland. Mateusz Morawiecki, the prime minister of Poland, on Monday accused Germany of “standing in the way” of harder sanctions against Russia. “Anyone who reads the notes of EU meetings knows that Germany is the biggest impediment when it comes to more decisive sanctions,” he told journalists in Warsaw.
A spokesperson for the German government said it would not be considering an immediate energy embargo but it was determined to speed up its efforts to wean Germany off Russian gas and oil.
“An immediate embargo with a halt to gas deliveries would damage the German economy considerably more than it would Putin’s economy,” said Oliver Krischer, from the ministry for the economy and climate protection, on Monday morning.
“After these pictures of the weekend, we will once again see how we can more quickly, and by using further measures, reduce our dependence,” he said. Efforts were being made to introduce a “quasi-embargo”, he said, through “non-purchase” and “energy-saving measures” as well as “diversification”, including buying liquefied petroleum gas.
Germany’s chancellor, Olaf Scholz, said the atrocities – in which hundreds of civilians are believed to have been murdered north of Kyiv – would not go unanswered, calling them war crimes, and promised on Sunday night that Germany, together with its partners, would be increasing sanctions against Russia in the coming days.
The defence minister, Christine Lambrecht, later went further, saying it was time for the EU to jointly discuss the option of a complete ban on Russian gas. “There must be a response,” she said in a television interview. “Such crimes cannot remain unanswered.
Opinion polls have shown that the majority of Germans – between 55% and 77% – are in favour of stopping imports of gas from Russia, despite the impact it might have on their ability to heat their own homes. The majority said they were also in favour of temporarily increasing the lifespan of coal-fired plants and of making nuclear power plants – the phase-out of which began following the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan in 2011 – operational again.
As a whole, Europe gets about 40% of its gas supplies from Russia. In Germany, the figure is 55%, the highest dependency of any European state. The EU gets 25% of its oil from Russia. Sanctions could be discussed by EU foreign ministers on the sidelines of a Nato meeting on Wednesday and Thursday.
The French president, Emmanuel Macron, on Monday said he was in favour of a new round of sanctions targeting Russia’s oil and coal sectors, but did not call for a EU ban on gas imports.
Macron was named by Morawiecki as he called for European leaders to do more against Russia. “President Macron, how many times have you negotiated with Putin? What have you achieved? … Would you negotiate with Hitler, with Stalin, with Pol Pot?” he asked.
“Chancellor Scholz, Olaf, it is not the voices of German businesses that should be heard aloud in Berlin today. It is the voice of these innocent women and children.”
Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, had on Sunday accused the former German chancellor Angela Merkel and the former French president Nicolas Sarkozy of contributing to Russian aggression by making too many concessions towards Putin.
“I invite Mrs Merkel and Mr Sarkozy to visit Bucha and to see for their own eyes where the politics of making concessions to Russia in over 14 years has led. You will see tortured Ukrainian men and women with your own eyes,” he said in his nightly video address to Ukrainians.
In particular, he levelled criticism at Merkel for not backing Ukraine’s attempts to join Nato in 2008.
Merkel’s office responded unusually swiftly to the criticism. In a statement, a spokesperson said: “The 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 supported every effort of the German government to stop Russia’s invasion, especially in light of the “atrocities of Bucha and other parts of Ukraine”.
Germany’s economics minister, Robert Habeck, who as a leading Green has pushed for years for the abolition of coal-fired plants and the scrapping of nuclear power plants, said Germany was working on reducing its reliance on Russian energy but that it could not happen overnight.
“We are working every single day to create the preconditions and to pave the way towards an embargo,” he said when asked if news of the murder of civilians in Bucha would lead to a government rethink. “This is also, in the view of the federal government, as well as in my own opinion, the way forward and one which harms Putin on a daily basis.”