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ENERGY

Germany ‘supports Russian oil embargo’, says minister

After weeks of scrambling to reduce its energy dependence on Russia, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock has said that Germany would support an embargo on Russian oil.

Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock
Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock (Greens) speaks in the Bundestag on April 27th, 2022. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Christophe Gateau

Speaking on ARD on Sunday, Baerbock said Germany was now prepared to manage without Russian oil for several years due to a number of new supply contracts arranged in the past few months. 

A few weeks ago, it would not have been possible to endure an immediate supply stop, she said. 

Since the beginning of the Russian war against Ukraine, Germany has been scrambling to diversify its energy supply and move away from Russian oil, gas and coil.

According to the government’s latest progress report on energy security, it has managed to cut its dependence on Russian oil from 35 percent to 12 percent in a matter of weeks.

With a German yes to an oil embargo, pressure is growing on the remaining EU member states, including Hungary, Austria and Italy, who are believed to be reluctant to support the move.

According to reports in the Wall Street Journal, officials are expected to make a decision later this week. 

However, questions still remain about the timescale of a potential trade ban and whether it would involve tariffs or caps to limit further price hikes. The United States is reportedly pressing EU states to avoid any measures that would lead to a long-term rise in energy costs.

READ ALSO:  ANALYSIS: How badly would a Russian gas embargo hurt ordinary Germans?

‘No agreement’

Speaking to representatives of small- and medium-sized businesses on Monday, Economics Minister Robert Habeck claimed there was “still no agreement” on an oil embargo within the EU.

Germany could support an oil embargo, he said, but “other countries are not yet ready.” 

He said that the move wouldn’t leave Germany unscathed and could potentially lead to price hikes, but would no longer lead to an oil crisis, as would have been the case a month ago. 

The ministers’ statements mark a major shift in the government’s previously cautious stance on a trade ban for Russian energy supplies.

Previously, the traffic light coalition government, made of the Social Democrats, Greens and Free Democrats, had set a deadline of late summer to halve oil imports and had pledged to end them entirely by the end of the year. Gas imports from Russia, which currently make up around 55 percent of Germany’s gas supply, are likely to continue until 2024. 

Europe’s heavy reliance of Russian energy has been in the spotlight since the country launched its full-scale invasion of Ukraine on February 24th, with Germany facing particularly heavy criticism over its opposition to an immediate embargo.

According to a study by Brussels-based think-tank Bruegel, the bloc sends over €1 billion to Russia’s state-owned energy companies every day, dwarfing the amount of aid that has been sent to Ukraine since the start of the war. 

Last Tuesday, the Kremlin announced that it would end all gas supplies to Poland and Bulgaria after both countries refused to comply with a demand to pay for their energy in rubles, sparking fears that this could be a precursor to shutting off supplies to other EU states. 

READ ALSO: Germany slashes growth forecasts amid Ukraine war

“This has to be taken seriously,” Economics Minister Robert Habeck said on Wednesday, stressing that Germany would continue to make its payments in euros or dollars and that the Russian supplier, Gazprom, would have to convert the money itself.

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UKRAINE

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
“Sentimentai”.

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.

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