The Daily Telegraph

Germany wakes up to threat of Kremlin

- Ben Marlow

Moscow’s energy war with the West is intensifyi­ng. It has become a war of attrition, risking mutually assured destructio­n, in which Europe scrambles to wean itself off Russian supplies but Vladimir Putin desperatel­y tries to pre-empt such a move.

His high-risk calculatio­n is that if Europe is going to get its energy from elsewhere, then rather than allowing Western leaders to do so on their own terms, Russia will get in first and sever exports before the Continent can stand on its own two feet – or at least find more reliable internatio­nal partners.

Effectivel­y, the Kremlin knows it is going down. But like any dangerous enemy, it is determined to take as many of its opponents with it. Still, there is something to be said for Germany finally waking up to the dangers of relying on Russia.

Berlin’s decision to take control of three Russian-owned refineries on German soil is a bold act that underlines the geo-political earthquake Putin’s aggression has triggered.

However, asset appropriat­ion is usually the preserve of rogue states such as North Korea, Iran, Venezuela, and indeed Russia, both before and after the fall of the Soviet Union. It is not usual in a Western democracy. But Berlin’s actions are a measure of how far the world has come since the Kremlin’s tanks bulldozed their way across the Ukrainian border.

At first, Western European diplomats continued to argue about whether Putin represente­d a threat to peace and stability at all, despite the repeated warnings of those in closer proximity to Russia’s border.

As European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen confessed in her State of the Union speech: “We should have listened to those who know Putin… In Poland, in the Baltics and across Central and Eastern Europe. They have been telling us for years that Putin would not stop.”

On energy at least, it is clear that Olaf Scholz, the German chancellor, is more alive to the danger that Russia poses. The nationalis­ation of three refineries owned by Russian oil company Rosneft is a major escalation of hostilitie­s, but it had been coming ever since a key energy law was amended last month allowing the government to place critical infrastruc­ture under temporary trusteeshi­p – and in extreme circumstan­ces, full expropriat­ion.

It means that the country’s federal energy regulator, Bundesnetz­agentur, will take ownership of Rosneft’s stakes in three German refineries – PCK in Schwedt, Miro in Karlsruhe and Bayernoil in Vohburg – accounting for about 12pc of Germany’s total oil processing capacity.

But if Putin cuts off gas supplies to Europe altogether, there are grave doubts about the German economy’s ability to withstand the winter, even with compulsory rationing. Goldman Sachs says Germany wouldn’t “have many options” and as a result could suffer a staggering 65pc collapse in industrial output if Putin turns off the taps completely, which would plunge the country into a deep recession.

However there remain grave doubts within the EU – and particular­ly in Central and Eastern Europe – as to whether even now Scholz and his fragile coalition partners truly recognise the threat from Russia. And if they do, whether they possess the will to tackle the Kremlin head on.

Indeed, the suspicion has long been that Germany’s commitment to supporting Ukraine has been halfhearte­d. There is growing concern among more hardline EU countries, such as Poland, that if the gas crunch intensifie­s over the winter months, Berlin’s backing will wane further.

And while Von der Leyen’s mea culpa might have been expected to galvanise the EU, it has instead merely further exposed the divisions between states in the east, who generally advocate a tougher stance including more military aid, and those in the west, including Germany, who fixate on the political fallout of a prolonged conflict. There was hope that the territoria­l gains by Ukraine in recent days would encourage a bolder stance.

Yet Germany’s refusal to honour a consignmen­t of weaponry, including Leopard tanks and Marder armoured personnel carriers, is perhaps a better indication of what to expect.

German officials have talked about the danger of escalation and while an aversion to confrontat­ion from a country that started two world wars is understand­able, as Ukrainian defence ministry official Yuriy Sak was quoted as saying, the real question is: “An escalation to what? It’s bad enough as it is.” Dmytro Kuleba, Ukraine’s foreign minister, responded: “What is Berlin afraid of that Kyiv is not?”

Now there’s a question that could have been asked at any time over the past 20 years.

‘Many suspect that Germany’s commitment to Ukraine has been half-hearted’

 ?? ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United Kingdom