Construction of the transgas pipeline in the Czech Republic, which also supplies Austria
Photo: PETR JOSEK/ REUTERS
These are remarkable figures - in several respects: Although Russia is waging a brutal war in Ukraine and the European Union is supporting Kiev with billions of dollars and weapons aid, at the same time significant amounts of Russian pipeline gas are still flowing into Europe. To Austria, for example: In December, the share of Russian gas was 98 percent of the country's total gas imports.
This value also came about through a special constellation (more on that below). But he is now calling on the Austrian government. More precisely: Energy Minister Leonore Gewessler (Greens). She has announced that she will use state intervention to combat her country's continued high level of dependence on Russia.
Gewessler said on Monday in Vienna that she wanted to oblige gas suppliers by law to gradually demonstrate an increasing proportion of non-Russian natural gas. »We are currently seeing a clear market failure. There is enough non-Russian natural gas - but the energy companies don't buy it. However, a two-thirds majority in parliament is required for the corresponding change in the law, the minister continued.
Putin's "useful idiots"?
The last major step towards dependence was the extension of the long-term supply contracts for Russian natural gas between the gas company Gazprom and the partially state-owned energy company OMV in 2018, it said. It is now important to examine and implement all legal options for exiting this “gag agreement,” which runs until 2040, said Gewessler. A feature of the contract is a fixed purchase obligation (take-or-pay) in OMV's supply contracts. So you have to pay even if no Russian gas is purchased.
Gewessler also advocated for a new security strategy in which an independent energy supply should be given a correspondingly high priority. The aim remains, as decided by the EU, to get by without Russian gas in a few years.
Along with Germany, Austria was considered a particularly close energy partner to Russia for many years. Economically but also politically, many close relationships developed between Vienna and Moscow over the years. The right-wing populist party FPÖ has now maintained a friendship agreement with the Kremlin party “United Russia” - and chancellors from both the SPÖ and the conservatives from the ÖVP have always tried to maintain a good relationship with the Kremlin. The British "Economist" therefore put the Alpine republic on a list of "Putin's useful idiots" in 2023 - right behind Hungary.
How the 98 percent came about
However, the 98 percent share of Russian gas deliveries in December exaggerates the picture somewhat. One of the reasons it came about was that very little gas was delivered to Austria that month due to overall lower gas consumption. Over the rest of the year, the proportion fluctuated between 43 and 90 percent on a monthly basis (click here for the statistics).
But these values are also high. Germany, for example, no longer purchases pipeline gas from Russia. However, the reason for this is not sanctions: Moscow initially throttled deliveries under all sorts of pretexts - supposedly urgent repair work, for example - and then stopped them completely. In September 2022, explosions that have not yet been fully explained destroyed several strands of the Nordstream Baltic Sea pipeline.
The EU has expressly not sanctioned gas imports from Russia, unlike oil imports. The reason: Many EU states are dependent on gas imports from Russia. Germany is also presumably still consuming Russian gas, which finds its way into the country in liquefied form via Belgian ports. This is not a sanctions loophole, but a calculation: The EU assumes that the consequences of gas sanctions would hit some EU states much harder than the Kremlin.
Austria has so far received its gas from Russia via the Transgas pipeline. The raw materials continue to flow through this pipe despite the war - even though the line also runs through the territory of Ukraine. However, Kiev has announced that it will no longer tolerate gas transit in 2025.