Germany begins slow move away from Russian gas after Ukraine invasion

The invasion of Ukraine has thrown Germany's problematic dependence on Russian gas into stark relief, forcing Europe's largest economy to urgently reshape its energy mix.

A view of construction work in Brunsbüttel, Schleswig-Holstein.
A view of construction work in Brunsbüttel, Schleswig-Holstein. The port on the North Sea is under discussion as a site for a new LNG (Liquefied Natural Gas) terminal. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Frank Molter

In a previously unthinkable step for Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s young government, the crisis even has politicians considering delaying Germany’s planned exit from nuclear energy and coal to keep the lights on.

“We will change course to overcome our import dependence,” Scholz said Sunday at an extraordinary session of the Bundestag, or lower house of parliament, on the Ukraine crisis.

READ ALSO: How war in Ukraine has sparked a historic shift in Germany

The decision represents a massive and expensive reversal for the government which has banked on Russia to secure its energy needs over the past two decades.

With Russia increasingly isolated internationally as a result of economic sanctions over Ukraine, Berlin can no longer rely on Moscow to keep supplying over half of the country’s gas.

While energy supplies have largely been exempted from the West’s response, policymakers still needed to “prepare for a scenario” where Russia “stops gas deliveries”, Finance Minister Christian Lindner said on Tuesday.

READ ALSO: How Germany could end its dependence on Russian energy

Finance Minister Christian Lindner.

Finance Minister Christian Lindner. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

Liquified gas

Initially, Germany hopes to substitute Russian supplies with larger deliveries of liquefied natural gas (LNG), a super-chilled form of the fuel, which can be imported by sea from producers such as the United States or Qatar.

The German government made a splash in the LNG market on Wednesday by announcing it was earmarking 1.5 billion euros ($1.7 billion) for the fuel.

But Germany lacks the infrastructure to absorb huge new supplies, with no LNG terminals along its coast where tankers can dock.

Their absence means it will have to import supplies through one of the European Union’s 21 other terminals, a costly solution at a time when energy prices are soaring.

“Germany must build its own LNG terminals with the necessary connections and infrastructure,” the economy ministry concluded last week.

A number of projects, which had stalled because of a lack of political and financial backing, could also receive “public support”, the ministry said.

In the northern town of Stade, on the Elbe, the construction process for one project is about to get under way.

“The technical assessments are complete,” Hanseatic Energy Hub, the company behind the project, told AFP.

Meanwhile, in Wilmershaven, on the North Sea coast, the Belgian group TES is also planning to build a facility.

The terminals could, however, take some time to come online. “The approval process takes minimum three years, and two for construction,” Karen Pittel, energy expert at the Ifo institute think-tank, told AFP.

Climate objectives

The narrow room for manoeuvre has cast doubt over Germany’s ambitious timetable for its transition towards renewable energy.

Germany’s governing coalition of the Social Democrats, the Greens and the liberal FDP, in office since December, had promised an earlier exit from coal in 2030 and maintained Angela Merkel’s decision to exit nuclear by the end of 2022.

Paradoxically, natural gas was to play a crucial bridging role in the planned green shift, providing a ready energy supply when the wind is still or the sun does not shine – at least until the technology to store the energy produced by renewables catches up.

“There are no more taboos,” Economy and Climate Minister Robert Habeck declared recently. “In the short term, we may need to hold coal power plants in reserve out of caution,” he said.

READ ALSO: Germany halts controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline

The Green party minister likewise did not rule out pushing back the closure of the country’s last three operational nuclear power plants.

The government would, however, face significant challenges were it to pursue the nuclear option. “You cannot just extend a nuclear plant you have decided to close like that,” energy expert Pittel said.

There were “extremely high hurdles, on a technical and administrative level” to keep the plants going, the plant operator RWE told German daily Handelsblatt.

By Florian CAZERES

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Rapping, breakdancing Ukrainians win Eurovision in musical morale boost

Ukraine won the Eurovision Song Contest Sunday with an infectious hip-hop folk melody, boosting spirits in the embattled nation fighting off a Russian invasion that has killed thousands and displaced millions of people.

Rapping, breakdancing Ukrainians win Eurovision in musical morale boost

Riding a huge wave of public support, Kalush Orchestra beat 24 competitors in the finale of the world’s biggest live music event with “Stefania”, a rap lullaby combining Ukrainian folk and modern hip-hop rhythms.

“Please help Ukraine and Mariupol! Help Azovstal right now,” implored frontman Oleh Psiuk in English from the stage after their performance was met by a cheering audience.

In the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, the triumph was met with smiles and visible relief.

“It’s a small ray of happiness. It’s very important now for us,” said Iryna Vorobey, a 35-year-old businesswoman, adding that the support from Europe was “incredible”.

Following the win, Psiuk — whose bubblegum-pink bucket hat has made him instantly recognisable — thanked everyone who voted for his country in the contest, which is watched by millions of viewers.

“The victory is very important for Ukraine, especially this year. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Glory to Ukraine,” Psiuk told journalists.

Music conquers Europe

The win provided a much-needed morale boost for the embattled nation in its third month of battling much-larger Russian forces.

Mahmood & BLANCO  performing for Italy at Eurovision 2022

Mahmood & BLANCO perform on behalf of Italy during the final of the Eurovision Song contest 2022 in Turin, Italy. (Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP)

“Our courage impresses the world, our music conquers Europe!” he wrote on Facebook.

“This win is so very good for our mood,” Andriy Nemkovych, a 28 year-old project manager, told AFP in Kyiv.

The victory drew praise in unlikely corners, as the deputy chief of the NATO military alliance said it showed just how much public support ex-Soviet Ukraine has in fighting off Moscow.

“I would like to congratulate Ukraine for winning the Eurovision contest,” Mircea Geoana said as he arrived in Berlin for talks that will tackle the alliance’s expansion in the wake of the Kremlin’s war.

“And this is not something I’m making in a light way because we have seen yesterday the immense public support all over Europe and Australia for the bravery of” Ukraine, Geoana said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the win “a clear reflection of not just your talent, but of the unwavering support for your fight for freedom”.

And European Council President Charles Michel said he hoped next year’s contest “can be hosted in Kyiv in a free and united Ukraine”.

‘Ready to fight’
Despite the joyous theatrics that are a hallmark of the song contest, the war in Ukraine hung heavily over the festivities this year.
The European Broadcasting Union, which organises the event, banned Russia on February 25, the day after Moscow invaded its neighbour.
“Stefania”, written by Psiuk as a tribute to his mother before the war, mixes traditional Ukrainian folk music played on flute-like instruments with an invigorating hip-hop beat. The band donned richly embroidered ethnic garb
to perform their act.
Nostalgic lyrics such as “I’ll always find my way home even if all the roads are destroyed” resonated all the more as millions of Ukrainians have been displaced by war.

Kalush Orchestra received special authorisation from Ukraine’s government to attend Eurovision, since men of fighting age are prohibited from leaving the country, but that permit expires in two days.

Psiuk said he was not sure what awaited the band as war rages back home.

“Like every Ukrainian, we are ready to fight as much as we can and go until the end.

Britain’s ‘Space Man’

Ukraine beat a host of over-the-top acts at the kitschy, quirky annual musical event, including Norway’s Subwoolfer, who sang about bananas while dressed in yellow wolf masks, and Serbia’s Konstrakta, who questioned national healthcare while meticulously scrubbing her hands onstage.

Coming in second place was Britain with Sam Ryder’s “Space Man” and its stratospheric notes, followed by Spain with the reggaeton “SloMo” from Chanel.

After a quarter-century of being shut out from the top spot, Britain had hoped to have a winner in “Space Man” and its high notes belted by the affable, long-haired Ryder.

Britain had been ahead after votes were counted from the national juries, but a jaw-dropping 439 points awarded to Ukraine from the public pushed it to the top spot.

Eurovision’s winner is chosen by a cast of music industry professionals — and members of the public — from each country, with votes for one’s home nation not allowed.

Eurovision is a hit among fans not only for the music, but for the looks on display and this year was no exception. Lithuania’s Monika Liu generated as much social media buzz for her bowl cut hairdo as her sensual and elegant

Other offerings included Greece’s “Die Together” by Amanda Georgiadi Tenfjord and “Brividi” (Shivers), a duet from Italy’s Mahmood and Blanco.

Italy had hoped the gay-themed love song would bring it a second consecutive Eurovision win after last year’s “Zitti e Buoni” (Shut up and Behave) from high-octane glam rockers Maneskin.