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Europe Buys $38B in Russian Energy Since Invasion; 30% of the Gas Comes Via Pipelines in Ukraine

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Over a month into Russia’s war in Ukraine and after multiple countries imposed sanctions on Russian fossil fuels, Ukraine’s pipelines are still carrying Russian gas into Europe. Ukrainian climate activist Svitlana Romanko says Ukraine cannot shut off the gas flow if EU governments refuse to implement an embargo on Russian imports. “There should be a collaboration on both sides of this supply chain,” says Romanko. A natural solution would be to urgently transition Europe to renewable energy sources, as “Vladimir Putin can’t embargo the sun” and “can’t interdict the wind,” adds Bill McKibben, environmentalist and founder of 350.org.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, it might surprise a lot of people that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine prompted the United States to put — this wouldn’t surprise — put a ban on imports on Russian oil and gas, so it was interesting to see a new Washington Post piece headlined “Ukraine’s pipelines are still carrying Russian gas to Europe.” It’s about Ukraine’s state-owned gas company Naftogaz. It reads, quote — this is the article — “Even as Russia rains missiles onto Ukraine, it is still sending approximately 30 percent of the gas it sells in Europe through the country it has invaded. And although Ukraine’s leaders have called for the continent to immediately halt imports of Russian gas, they are doing nothing to interfere with the gas flowing through pipelines at a rate of 40 billion cubic meters a year to customers including Germany, Austria, Italy, Slovakia, Hungary and the Czech Republic.” The Washington Post also reports both Russia and Ukraine profit by keeping the gas flowing — Russia by selling the gas at high prices and Ukraine by collecting transit fees. I wanted to get your response to this, Svitlana, but first play clip of an interview with Ukraine’s state-run energy company Naftogaz, the CEO, Yuriy Vitrenko, on Bloomberg Markets and Finance last month.

YURIY VITRENKO: In fact, Russia is using currently only about one-third of the available capacity to run the gas through Ukraine. It increased even before the war, for different reasons. And currently they are just using the conjunctive capacity. We also understand that as soon as gas continues to flow through Ukraine, it’s not just a matter of some payments that Russia is making and we are getting this money, but it’s more about at least some deterrent in terms of protection of our infrastructure.

AMY GOODMAN: Svitlana Romanko, you’re a Ukrainian climate activist, longtime environmental lawyer, who founded Stand with Ukraine campaign, calling on governments to ban trade and investment in Russian oil and gas. Can you respond to this fact that Russia is sending the gas through Ukraine, and Ukraine is profiting off of that and yet demanding governments in Europe say no to the oil and gas?

SVITLANA ROMANKO: Yes, of course. I still think that by Volodymyr Zelensky’s speeches and by all of governmental officials’ speeches and demands to the EU leaders to ban entirely all fossil fuel gas and oil transported from Russia to the EU, they completely realize the sequence of steps and the outcomes that will be followed up with that action. I think we, Ukraine, it’s not a question of profit, definitely, because the annual profit from the gas transit is about from $1 billion to $2 billion annually, and Ukraine has already lost about $560 billion of annual GDP right now, as in end of March, because of the Russian invasion. So, it’s not a question of profit. It’s a question of responsibility.

The state fossil fuel company, which still wants to transport gas and that promises — promises that gas will be transported through the territory of Ukraine. I think there should be a collaboration on both sides of the supply chain, from the Ukrainian government and from the EU government, to put embargo and to stop gas transit. Yes, it will have a huge economic losses from Ukraine, but, as I said, not as we’ve lost all annual GDP and our economy is to decline for 60% right now.

And civil society demands to stop, as well, transporting of gas through the territory of Ukraine. This may result further in bombarding the gas infrastructure through all Ukraine and no access to gas for Ukrainians in every territory, but sets the price that we are paying. And I don’t — and I think we should share those risks with the EU and with the whole world, because, actually, we are overpaying by human lives and by destroying our entire infrastructure and the economic losses, as I’ve said.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to get Bill McKibben’s response to this. I mean, it really may shock many people that Ukraine, understandably, is demanding from the EU to put an embargo on oil and gas coming from Russia, and yet it’s allowing that gas to go through Ukraine, 30% of Europe’s gas.

BILL McKIBBEN: Well, it shouldn’t shock anyone, Amy, because Ukraine is in an impossible situation here. They’re desperately in need of the support of the EU, Germany. And so, if they unilaterally decide to shut down the flow of gas to Germany, they’re risking that support. What they need is the Germans to stand up and say, “We will not be taking this anymore.”

And we could help a great deal with that. That’s why a lot of us have been pushing, at Third Act and elsewhere, this Heat Pumps for Peace and Freedom plan. We need to use the U.S. Defense Production Act not to build — I mean, we’re already supplying anti-tank weapons, but the real weapons in this war will also turn out to be things like air-source heat pumps, that over this summer could allow much of Europe to get off Russian gas and onto clean electricity.

That’s where we need to head, because if we get to a world — which it would be completely possible to do in a matter of years — that runs on sun and wind, well, Vladimir Putin can’t embargo the sun. You know, he can’t interdict the wind. And then places like Ukraine will not be placed in the excruciating position that they’re in right now. I don’t think there’s hypocrisy on the part of Ukraine. I think that there is some kind of hope for survival. And I think that’s what we all should be hoping for, for Ukraine.

AMY GOODMAN: And just to be clear, even as Russia rains missiles onto Ukraine — just for the percentage to be correct — it’s still sending approximately 30% of the gas it sells in Europe through Ukraine. I also wanted to ask Svitlana about the EU move to block Russian energy imports since the invasion, particularly to focus specifically on coal. Many environmentalists around the world are saying it should be expanded from coal.

SVITLANA ROMANKO: I found it a bit, so saying, ridiculous. Yeah, important step, but in the sense of impact, a coal embargo, it makes only $4 billion annual Russia’s profit, in comparison with a net profit that they are going to get in 2022, if there won’t be the full embargo on oil and gas, counts over $240 billion. So, as we can see, just $4 billion, and imposed somewhere in August, would not make such a political difference, that we demand, and won’t probably — won’t probably avoid Putin of taking further steps again to invade Ukraine and continue this horrific war, as well. So we are demanding the full embargo on oil and gas. And Ukraine is very ready to collaborate, as I said, because there were multiple statements and call to actions from Ukrainian officials, and they realize the next steps and all the power it should take.

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