Germany resists EU ban on Russian gas as bloc prepares new sanctions

BERLIN/BRUSSELS, April 4 (Reuters) – German Finance Minister Christian Lindner on Monday rejected a European Union embargo on imports of Russian gas, as rising civilian deaths in Ukraine increase pressure on the bloc to impose sanctions on the Russian energy sector.

“We are dealing with a criminal war,” Lindner said ahead of talks with EU colleagues in Brussels. “It is clear that we must end all economic ties with Russia as soon as possible. We must provide for severe sanctions, but the gas cannot be replaced in the short term. We would inflict more damage on ourselves than on them .”

Lindner suggested that instead of a blanket ban on all energy imports from Russia, the EU could look at oil, coal and gas separately, as alternative suppliers for each of the fossil fuels could be found at varying speeds.

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After years of prosperity thanks to Russian energy imports, Germany is convulsed by a debate over how to untie a trade relationship that critics say is funding the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Russia supplies 40% of Europe’s gas needs.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s coalition government appears to be at odds over a ban on Russian energy imports and pressure is mounting on European leaders to impose more punitive sanctions on President Vladimir Putin’s government amid growing evidence of atrocities against Ukrainian civilians by the Russian army. Read more

Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht said on Sunday that the European Union should discuss a ban on the import of Russian gas after Ukrainian and European officials accused Russian forces of committing atrocities near kyiv, raising hopes that Germany was rethinking its opposition to a ban.

Economy Minister Robert Habeck said he opposed an immediate ban on Russian imports of fossil fuels.

“We are working every day to create the preconditions and steps towards an embargo,” Habeck told a news conference on Monday, adding that this approach “harms Putin daily.”

Markus Soeder, the conservative premier of the wealthy state of Bavaria, criticized the government for what he said was an ideological focus on switching to wind and solar only while pushing ahead with plans to shut down the last nuclear power plants this year.

“We need five nuclear power plants for another five years and a pipeline from southern Europe to southern Germany,” he said. “We have to look at hydraulic fracturing.”

Russian gas was initially envisioned as the “bridge” that would fuel the economy between the end of nuclear power and its complete replacement by renewables.

Germany has tightened sanctions on Russian leaders, politicians, technical goods and financial flows, but refrained from blocking oil, gas and coal, saying it would hurt Germany more than in the Kremlin.

Economic analysts said Germany would face a deep recession if it stopped importing Russian energy. Read more

Habeck said Germany was seeking to reduce Russia’s indirect economic influence on the German energy industry. He cited Russia’s Rosneft (ROSN.MM) 54.2% stake in an eastern German refinery, PCK Schwedt, which processes gas from Russia.

Habeck’s ministry is considering an offer from Rosneft to increase its stake in Schwedt to 91.67%, as agreed last November. Read more

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Reporting by Joseph Nasr, Vera Eckert, Thomas Escritt and Tassilo Hummel; Editing by Barbara Lewis and Grant McCool

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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