The primary goal must be to stop the war of aggression on Ukraine launched by Russia on 24 February 2022. The sanctions of EU and NATO countries are currently in contrast to the dependence on Russian raw material and energy supplies. Hundreds of millions of euros flow from Germany to Russia every day, counteracting the effect of the sanctions. This should now be an incentive to reassess the costs of more radical fossil fuel exit scenarios in the shortest possible time under crisis conditions.
On 24 February 2022, Russia invaded Ukraine starting a war that shocked the world and continues to this day. After the military attack on Georgia in 2008, the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and the Russian role in the military secession conflict in the Donbass in 2015, Vladimir Putin's policy has finally revealed its true colours. It has become clear he wants to avenge the dissolution of the Soviet Union, seeking to restore Russia as a great power and controlling at least the area of the former Soviet Union or the Russian Empire.
The war of aggression, which is contrary to international law, has been met with fierce resistance from Ukrainian society and the Ukrainian military. Russian calculations regarding a possible division of the country and its elites into pro-Russian and pro-Ukrainian forces have proved to be groundless, especially in the regions in the east and southeast of the country that usually have "pro-Russian" connotations. Similar to past wars in Chechnya and Syria, Russian troops have bombed housing settlements and public civilian facilities, cities have been surrounded and infrastructure destroyed. The number of civilian victims of the war runs into the thousands, while millions of refugees from Ukraine seek shelter in neighbouring countries.
With unprecedented unanimity, the EU and many NATO countries have reacted to the Russian aggression with harsh economic sanctions. The freezing of the Russian central bank's foreign currency reserves registered abroad is of particular importance. The dependence of energy systems on Russian gas, oil and coal supplies, which has been promoted and cemented in recent years by many political and economic actors, especially from Germany, now appears to be what critics have been making unmistakably clear for years for political and ecological reasons: a fatal mistake.
However, when Russia was excluded from the international payment system SWIFT, the Russian banks through which payments for Russian raw material and energy deliveries - gas, oil and coal - to the EU (and in particular to Germany) are processed were deliberately excluded. This decision was taken on the grounds that Germany and other EU Member States are dependent on the stable import of these raw materials in the medium term in order to secure the energy supply for industry and private households.
As a result, hundreds of millions of euros are continuing to flow from Germany to Russia every day, counteracting the intended financial effect of the sanctions. Increasing numbers find this reality unbearable in the light of news and images of the suffering in Ukraine. If the Russian war machine cannot be contained by a no-fly zone - vehemently demanded by Ukraine - because this would make an immediate military confrontation between NATO and Russia unavoidable, is it not urgently time to at least impose an immediate embargo on all supplies of raw materials and energy from Russia? And what can and must be done to swiftly halt Germany's and the EU's fossil fuel dependence on Russia, a reality that undermines both security and climate policies?
The most urgent question from our point of view is: would an embargo imposed until the end of hostilities have the effect of curtailing Putin's aggression towards Ukraine? Or, are there other, more effective, alternatives?
Stopping the Russian war of aggression must be the primary goal. We should use all available political and economic instruments, even if they entail costs for Germany and the EU. Instead, such changes should serve as an incentive to reassess the costs of more radical fossil phase-out scenarios in the shortest possible time. After all, the costs and risks of a protracted, increasingly brutal and potentially escalating war are unbearable and ultimately incalculable, both for the Ukrainians and also for the West.
This article was first published in German on boell.de.