Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyj looks directly into the camera and addresses the German audience: “You know, there are certain values that are very difficult to explain until you have a war in your own house, in your own country,” he says Zelenskyj. in the Interview with a “Bild” reporter on the steps of the Presidential Palace.
In war, Zelenskyj continues, one no longer thinks about what one wants to buy or save. Don’t worry about higher taxes and don’t think about your next vacation. “That’s not the true value of life,” says Zelenskyj, looking back at the camera. “The true value of life is that you live, that you are not killed. And that is what Europe has to do: defend the simple life.”
It is an emotional appeal that Selenskyj makes to Europe and Germany while sitting down. Once again, the 44-year-old has urged the West to hit Russian President Vladimir Putin where his country is most vulnerable: with its energy supplies to the EU.
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But while Putin is continuing the war in Ukraine with all its brutality, the German government has so far been unable to come up with an energy embargo. The consequences of sanctions against Russia should be “as small as possible” for Europeans, Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) said Thursday night at the EU summit in Versailles, France. “We want to continue on this course.”
Stopping Russia’s energy supply would definitely be painful for Germany. Russia supplies about half of the country’s coal and natural gas, as well as a third of its oil needs. Deputy Chancellor and Finance Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) is working flat out on alternatives, but they are rare and will take time. He also repeatedly rejects an embargo.
Habeck: You can only take responsibility for the measures we adhere to
“This is about avoiding economic damage that would tie us up for years and also paralyze us politically,” he told ZDF. Habeck fears an economic drop of three to five percent. That would have worse effects than the coronavirus pandemic. The consequences would be ” hundreds of thousands of unemployed”, as well as entire industrial sectors that would have to close and price increases that many people could not afford, according to Habeck.
In fact, almost all sectors are directly or indirectly linked to energy prices. Transportation is getting more expensive for food, steel production and thus much of industry is getting more expensive, and heating costs are rising for all businesses. In the end, consumers will have to bear the additional costs. “We can only decide on the measures and I can only take responsibility for those that I know we can comply with,” Habeck said.
But despite these scenarios of terror, the direction of the federal government is controversial. According to a poll, the majority of Germans are in favor of stopping imports of oil and gas from Russia due to the Ukraine war. According to ZDF’s “political barometer” published on Friday, 55 percent of those polled are in favor of not importing more Russian oil or gas, even if this causes supply problems in Germany. A few days earlier, another survey had reached similar conclusions.
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Leading representatives of the civilian population have now written an open letter to the federal government. “We are all financing this war. Every day, as EU countries, we pay Russian leaders more than 500 million euros for the import of oil, gas and coal,” they write, calling for an immediate embargo. The letter was signed by many celebrities from the left political field, such as the writer Caroline Emcke, the climate protection activist Luisa Neubauer, the historian Karl Schlögel and the pianist Igor Levit.
Former Federal President Joachim Gauck is one of the advocates of tougher sanctions. In the ARD talk “Maischberger” evoked Germany’s will to persevere. “We are stronger than our fear tells us.” There is a strong alliance with the West and we must show solidarity with Ukraine. “We can also freeze for freedom,” says Gauck.
Green deputy: “Freezing for freedom is pure social Darwinism”
“Freezing for freedom is pure social Darwinism. Simply nonsense,” criticizes Green MP Andreas Audretsch in a tweet. The social and budget expert from Berlin told the Tagesspiegel: “The social issue must be the focus of crisis policy.” Standard rates for people with basic security would have to adjust to rising prices, the one-time payment of 100 euros through the traffic light relief package was not enough. Low-income people also need financial support.
But internationally, pressure on the federal government is growing. Eastern European EU states, fearful of a Russian invasion, are outspokenly in favor of a freeze. After the EU summit in Versailles, French President Emmanuel Macron is also keeping all options open.
“Nothing is forbidden, nothing is taboo,” Macron said on Friday about a possible embargo on Russian oil and gas. If Russia goes ahead with the war, the EU will re-impose massive sanctions. “We will do everything that is efficient and has a useful effect to stop Russia in the path of aggression,” Macron said. “We have shown that we can take sanctions and protect ourselves.”
What if Putin uses chemical weapons?
In political Berlin, voices are also growing that want to take tougher measures against Putin. “Now we must keep the reins of the action in our hands and open a new chapter on oil and gas,” Defense Committee chairwoman Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann wrote on Twitter. The FDP politician demanded: “Germany must immediately stop importing these raw materials from Russia.”
Even the Greens and the SPD no longer categorically reject a comprehensive energy embargo. Several options seem conceivable that could lead to a change of course. If Putin continues to take such brutal measures against the civilian population in Ukraine, the traffic light could crumble. The bombing of a children’s hospital and the devastating conditions in the city of Mariupol, in eastern Ukraine, have caused horror. There are fears in government circles that Putin may also use chemical weapons against Ukraine. So an energy embargo seems inevitable.
Other scenario needs more time. If the EU succeeds in rapidly filling energy reserves, at least a minimization of energy supplies would be conceivable. To further destabilize Putin, a temporary suspension could also be an option. They are still just thoughts, but the war in the Ukraine has already led to many changes of opinion in Berlin.