Germany has condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. It has increased its defence budget and sent weapons to the Ukrainian military. It has launched a barrage of sanctions against Russia and some of its billionaires. This week, in Hamburg, German authorities impounded the superyacht owned by the family of Alisher Usmanov, the Russian oligarch industrialist closely linked to President Vladimir Putin.
Yet Germany’s role as the biggest European Union buyer of Russian oil and natural gas continues largely unhindered, effectively making it the EU’s No. 1 financier of Mr. Putin’s nasty war and slaughterhouse for civilians. Germany’s reliance on Russian energy explains why the coalition government, led by Chancellor Olaf Scholz, has resisted cutting off Russian oil and gas; he knows that doing so would plunge the EU’s biggest economy into a debilitating recession – and turn off the lights and potentially his political career too.
How did Germany become this overdependent on Russian energy?
While former chancellor Gerhard Schroeder has been described as one of Mr. Putin’s useful idiots on the energy front, it was his successor, Angela Merkel, the chancellor from 2005 to the end of last year, who took Mr. Schroeder’s Putin-friendly stand and intensified it.
Ms. Merkel has kept a low profile since she went into retirement, reportedly spending her time writing her memoirs. She broke her silence earlier this month to insist that she “stands by” her decision to block Ukraine’s attempt to join NATO at the military alliance’s Bucharest summit in 2008. She issued her statement the day after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky suggested that his country was under siege as a direct result of that decision, one that was supported by then French president Nicolas Sarkozy.
Ms. Merkel offered no apology for pursuing the disastrous policy of appeasing Mr. Putin by taking as much of his oil and gas that was on offer. Germany’s energy risks are the highest in the EU, since it is the country most dependent on Russian oil and gas. The prices for both commodities began to surge even before the war started on Feb. 24. As a result, German inflation, at 7.3 per cent in March, reached its highest level in more than 40 years.
For Germany, the only thing worse than financing Mr. Putin’s war by paying record or near-record prices for the Russian hydrocarbons is not paying for them at all. The Russian exports could disappear if Mr. Putin retaliates against the EU sanctions by turning off the taps. Already, he is insisting that payments be made in rubles, not euros or dollars; Germany and other EU countries consider ruble payments a violation of the contract terms.
Germany’s coddling of Mr. Putin began in earnest under Mr. Schroeder, the Social Democrat chancellor from 1998 to 2005. He became a friend of Mr. Putin and, in a TV interview in 2004, referred to Mr. Putin as a “flawless democrat.” His affection for Russia in general and Mr. Putin in…