Pipeline Predicament

Could Russia Endanger Germany's Energy Policy?

gas pipeline1
A gas pipeline brings Russian gas to Germany through the Czech Republic.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    A Russian natural gas embargo could have serious economic consequences for Germany and other European countries. The mere possibility of such an embargo has prompted some in Germany to reconsider the country’s decision to phase out nuclear energy.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Russia has never shut off Germany’s natural gas supply, even during the Cold War.
    • Germany obtains 35 percent of its natural gas from Siberia and 50 percent of all German homes are heated this way.
    • Experts estimate that most Western European countries could survive for about three months if the Russian natural gas supply were shut off.
  • Audio

    Audio

  • Pdf

If international politics followed the rational rules of economics, this story would be unnecessary. And no one would dare to call into question the decision Germany made three years ago to phase out all of its nuclear power plants. If economic reason prevailed, no one would seriously expect Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, to hit upon the idea of turning off the West’s gas supply, especially as selling natural gas is one of the few sources of revenue for Russia.

Nevertheless, the West can no longer completely rule out a halt on Russian gas deliveries, possibly in retaliation for heightened Western sanctions. The volatile fuel has always made it to Germany in the past, even in the darkest days of the Cold War. But now the West is slowly losing faith in the reliability of its Russian suppliers.

Moscow shut off the flow of gas to Ukraine months ago, and it has just signed a major agreement to pipe natural gas to China. Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the Ukrainian prime minister, stoked the fears of Europeans last week when he claimed to have knowledge that Russia intends to shut off the flow of gas to the European Union this winter. Both the Russian energy minister and the head of oil and gas producer Rosneft promptly denied the charge.

Would a Russian decision to shut off the natural gas supply to Germany reignite the debate over Germany’s move to rely more on renewables, known as the Energiewende, and especially over the phase-out of nuclear energy?

A glance at the statistics reveals how unconvincing the idea of replacing gas with electricity from nuclear power plants is. Germany obtains 35 percent of its natural gas from Siberia, but recent figures show that only 12 percent of all natural gas consumed goes to generating electricity.

Want to keep reading?

Subscribe now or log in to read our coverage of Europe’s leading economy.