Is Germany a „captive of Russia“, as Trump claims? Russia supplies only a quarter of Germany´s energy needs


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Germany pays billions for energy from Russia and is controlled by Moscow – this is what US President Donald Trump spreads at the NATO summit. But is it true, what he says?

A fact check, by Claus Hecking

July 11th, 2018

Breakfast with the NATO chief had barely begun when Donald Trump launched his latest attack on Germany. The US President claimed in a minute-long tirade, that the Federal Republic is „captive of Russia“: because of its dependence on Russian energy supplies. And as he liked his sentences so much, Trump tweeted them right away.

But does Germany really depend so much on Russian oil and natural gas, as Trump claims? Here is the fact check.

1. Does German pay billions for oil and gas from Russia?

Trump claims:  „Germany makes a massive oil and gas deal with Russia. Germany pays billions and billions of dollars to Russia […] The former Chancellor of Germany is the head of the pipeline company that supplying the gas.“

According to the German Statistical Office, the Federal Republic imported crude oil and natural gas from Russia for 19.8 billion euros in 2017. In terms of value, this was 35 percent of all imports of these two sources of energy.  Former Federal Chancellor Gerhard Schröder is Chairman of the Shareholders‘ Committee of Nord Stream. The company, whose majority owner is the Russian state monopoly Gazprom with 51 percent, operates the Baltic Sea pipeline. However, this is not the only pipeline through which Germany procures natural gas. Other pipelines bring gas from Norway, the Netherlands and Russia to Germany. But by and large, Trump’s statement is correct.

2. Will Germany double its gas imports from Russia?”

Trump claims:  „Ultimately, Germany will have almost 70 percent of their country controlled by Russia with natural gas.“

Trump obviously wants to say that in the future, almost 70 percent of the natural gas consumed in Germany will come from Russia. At present, according to the Federal Ministry of Economics, this share is around 38 percent.

With his prediction, Trump refers to the heavily controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline. The project, whose construction work has already begun in German waters, will be able to transport similar volumes of gas as the first Baltic SEA pipeline. Eastern European countries such as Ukraine or Poland have great reservations because they can be bypassed, lose transit revenue or might be cut off from supply in a crisis. The US fights against the project – partly because they want to sell liquefied natural gas (LNG) from their own deposits to Europe on a large scale.

The fuel from Nord Stream 2 is not only intended for Germany, but also for other Central and Western European countries. The gas from Nord Stream 1, for example, is passed through to a significant extent, for example to France or the Czech Republic.

The Federal Government of Germany has no interest in the fact that the share of Russian gas imports will almost double in the future. Their goal is to diversify supplies. In the coalition agreement, the government decided to promote the import of liquefied natural gas (LNG) via ships. It is likely that German politicians support the construction of a landing terminal on the North Sea coast.

German importers can also obtain gas from other European countries. „The natural gas infrastructure has been rebuilt so that gas can flow in both directions, including from west to east – this is particularly important for some countries in Central and Eastern Europe,“ says Stefan Kapferer, head of the Federal Association of German Energy and Energy Water Management (BDEW). And finally, Germany’s second most important supplier Norway has determined that it will supply pipeline gas to Central Europe for decades to come. Therefore, it is a daring forecast by Trump that the Federal Republic will receive more than two-thirds of its natural gas from Russia.

3. Does Russia control Germany or the German energy secetor by its energy supplies?

Trump claims:  „Germany is totally controlled by Russia, because they will be getting 60 to 70 percent of their energy from Russia and a new pipeline.“

Energy is more than just natural gas. This commodity accounts for just under a quarter of the total German energy consumption.

Renewable energies, nuclear energy and lignite together account for around 40 percent – and here comes little to nothing from Russia.  The faster the energy transition/ “Energiewende” progresses (regenerative technologies already generate 36 percent of German electricity), the weaker will this dependence become.

The most important single source of energy for Germany is crude oil. Here, Russia is currently the most important supplier – but only one of 23 different states that export the substance to Germany. For oil, which is often transported by ship, there are international stock exchanges. German importers could easily shop elsewhere on the world market. The same applies to hard coal: the third fuel currently coming to Russia to a significant extent. Again, there are alternative suppliers.

 Germany’s primary energy consumption by energy sources (Sources: AG Energiebilanzen, Annual Report 2017 and German Federal Government)

Oil 34.5% (Contribution of Russian oil imports to the total energy consumption: 12.4%)

Natural Gas 23.8% (Russian contribution: 8.8%)

Renewables 13.1%

Lignite 11.1%

Hard Coal 10.9% (Russian contribution: 3.7 %)

Nuclear 6.1%

Rest 0.3%

TOTAL RUSSIAN CONTRIBUTION: 24.9 %

According to our calculations, Russian natural gas, oil and coal supplies account for just under 25 percent of Germany’s primary energy consumption. That is considerable. But Germany is by no means „totally controlled“ by Russia. And it will not be.

4. Who is the captive?

Trump claims:  „Germany is a captive of Russia.“

For Russia, Germany is more important as a trading partner than the other way around. Of all German imports in 2017, only three percent came from Russia – and only two percent of exports go into Putin’s empire. For the Russians, the Federal Republic was the second most important partner behind China, accounting for 8.6 percent of its total foreign trade. And more than two thirds of Russian exports to Germany were natural gas, oil and hard coal.

Russia relies on Germany as one of its most important clients. The Germans need the Russians primarily as their main suppliers of natural gas. But life would go on for a long time without Russian gas. Thanks to a large number of storage facilities and improved intra-European connections, the Federal Republic could survive a total embargo for at least five months without any supply bottlenecks, according to a simulation by the Institute of Energy Economics at the University of Cologne. For the Russians, it would be very difficult to hold Germany hostage.

(c) 2018 by Claus Hecking

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