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Opinion: Putin has lost the gas war against Germany

Gurkov Andrey Kommentarbild App
Andrey Gurkov
January 13, 2023

Russia can no longer use its natural gas to blackmail Berlin. Germany has filled its storage facilities without Gazprom's help, and it's prepared for next winter as well, writes Andrey Gurkov.

Cartoon of a metal gas-pipeline dragon breathing fire over a rural landscape.
The Russian gas dragon no longer strikes fear into German hearts. (Cartoonist: Sergey Elkin) Image: DW

It would be premature to talk about Russian military defeat in Ukraine. But Vladimir Putin has lost the gas war against Germany — that much can already be said for certain. Germany has the largest natural gas storage capacities in the whole of the EU. And if these are still more than 90% full in mid-January, at the height of the heating season, it means the loss of Russian gas supplies no longer constitutes a threat.

When Russia invaded Ukraine almost 11 months ago, Germany was importing more than half its natural gas from Russia. Blackmailing Germany was therefore the centerpiece of the economic pressure Moscow piled on the European Union, aiming to undermine European support for the Ukrainian people and their army.

Germany is in its fifth month without Gazprom

The plan has failed. Germans are not freezing in their homes; they have not been forced to shut down their factories. Politicians in Berlin are no longer afraid that Moscow could take revenge on Germany and bring the country to a standstill. No — Germany itself renounced coal and crude oil from Russia as part of the EU sanctions, and since the end of August it has not received any natural gas from Gazprom, either.

Gurkov Andrey
DW's Andrey Gurkov

In other words, Germans have been living without gas from the supposedly indispensable Russian pipeline for five months now — and Europe's largest economy appears to be coping well. Yes, a recession is still anticipated; that would not be surprising, given the collapse of decades-old supply chains and the explosion of energy prices. But indicators increasingly show that the downturn will probably be fairly mild. Even the record inflation is slowing.

Meanwhile, Berlin is expanding its military support for Kyiv, which can be seen as further, indirect evidence of the failure of Putin's "gas special operation." In early January — when Germany was storing gas for the third week in a row, most uncharacteristically for the time of year — the German government changed its position and was finally persuaded to deliver armored personnel carriers to Ukraine. Heavy battle tanks may follow; discussions are already underway.

Regulatory authority gives the all-clear

In further evidence that Putin has lost the gas war, the German economy and population have been given an unequivocal all-clear by two sources at the same time: the state regulatory authority, and an industry association.

First, the Federal Network Agency officially announced that "a gas shortage this winter is becoming increasingly unlikely." In a newspaper interview, the head of the agency, Klaus Müller, added that he now expects gas prices to stop fluctuating and stabilize around the current level. This is still considerably higher than before, but far lower than the record levels seen in the summer. At these prices, the energy-intensive sectors of German industry "could finally work on gaining ground again," Müller said.

Shortly afterward, INES, the Association of German Gas and Hydrogen Storage Operators, presented scenarios for 2023 at its monthly press conference. Assuming normal weather and temperatures, the fill level at the end of this winter would be 65%, he said. That would be an extremely comfortable starting point for gas storage during the summer months, and for ensuring fill levels of 100% as early as September.

In other words, industry experts are assuring German businesses and households that they need not expect any problems with gas reserves either this winter or next — provided "the current heavy reductions in consumption are maintained."

Gazprom has lost its largest sales market

However, INES experts also modeled the worst-case scenario: The weather turns particularly cold, the availability of liquefied natural gas drops massively as a result of sudden, very high demand from Asia, and Russia simultaneously halts all gas supplies to Europe, which requiries Germany to share its reserves in solidarity with other EU countries. Yet even in such a scenario, Germany does not need to fear gas shortages in either the current heating period or the next.

Essentially, these two all-clears are convincing confirmation that Putin really has lost his gas war. Germany is starting 2023 without Russian gas, and with no need to worry about the loss. This is precisely the Kremlin's defeat: Russian natural gas is no longer an effective weapon against Germany. This loss has even more far-reaching consequences: The state-owned company Gazprom has lost its most important foreign sales market. Just one year ago, a quarter of all its exports were sold to Germany.

This article has been translated from German.