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Poland is the European Flagship for Energy Independence from Russia

The Spanish daily El Pais reported on 9 May that, following Russia’s cut-off of energy supplies to Europe, the European Union (EU) leaders are planning to oblige the more “plentiful” Member States to share their “energy” needs, such as natural gas, with those that are starving for energy resources. An energy-saving regime is also planned.

According to the newspaper, the European Commission (EC) was ready to present the plan on 18 May.

But the Old Continent may be able to avoid the austerity regime if/when a coordinated, coherent policy to reduce dependence on Russian energy sources is finally adopted.

Poland has been the European leader in this field for some time now, and has creatively adopted, for example, Lithuanian regional initiatives such as the import of liquefied natural gas through a specially built terminal, which the Lithuanians started to take care of in 2009 and successfully completed in the first half of 2014, although political “circles” over this decision in our country are still “bubbling” to this day.

It should be recalled that Poland has so far been the fourth largest importer of the Russian energy resources in the EU, with imports worth  15.4 billion Euros in 2021.

It should also be pointed out that Warsaw is dealing with this issue in a complex way, it is attentive to geopolitical nuances that the democracies further to the West are “somehow” not noticing, or rather, are only now starting to notice.

On 5 March, the Presidents of Ukraine and Poland, Volodymyr Zelensky and Andrzej Duda, discussed by telephone the sanction pressure on Russia in the wake of Moscow’s energy war against both Poland and the whole of Europe. They agreed that the EU needs to move away from the energy dependence on Russia.

Ukraine has something creative to offer. Already on 10 May, an international working group led by Head of the Presidential Office of the President of Ukraine Andriy Yermak and the former Ambassador (2012-2014) to Russia Michael McFaul, presented guidelines for energy sanctions against Russia to the EU for discussion.

The group proposes to complement the EC’s recommendation for a complete phaseout of Russian oil with specific measures such as a phased (“smart”, management-based) management of the phaseout, for example by introducing an import tax on oil imported from Russia to start with.

It should be recalled that Europe has continued to pay Moscow around USD 800 million a day for energy resources since 24 February, the beginning of the aggression against Ukraine.

On 30 March, the Minister of Climate and Environment of Poland Anna Moskwa and the head of the state-owned energy company PKN Orlen Daniel Obajtek, held a press conference to announce the decision of Warsaw to abandon Russian oil completely by the end of the year.

Daniel Obajtek said on that occasion that PKN Orlen had contracted 28 tankers to deliver oil to Poland since the start of the Russian aggression.

Prime Minister of Poland Mateusz Morawiecki told the audience that his country, which is already independent of the Russian oil in many aspects, was offering Europe a radical plan on this issue. He also recalled that on the eve of 30 March, the government of Poland adopted a sanctioning decision about a ban on imports of the Russian coal.

On 17 April, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki announced that cautious progress had enabled Poland to become independent from the Russian natural gas. According to the Prime Minister, the gas storage facilities of the state were at that time 100% full and would be refilled every day, with 78% coming from the north, south and west, as well as using local resources. In this connection, it was guaranteed that Polish households and industry would not experience a shortage of gas.

On the eve of the meeting, the Polish oil and gas company PGNiG announced that imports of the Russian gas would cease on 27 April. Until recently, the country was 47% dependent on the Russian gas.

Afterwards, the Russian concern Gazprom announced the suspension of gas supplies to PGNiG and the Bulgarian state company Bulgargaz, as they did not agree to the demand of Moscow to pay for gas in Russian roubles.

Bulgaria will benefit from the EU support as the country is 90% dependent on the Russian gas and its main storage facilities were 18% full at the time of the cut-off.

President Vladimir Putin announced in March that Russia would only accept payment for supplies in its national currency from 1 April and required buyers to open rouble accounts.

On the other hand, “authorship” has only a public relation meaning, which hardly feeds Moscow. By the way, after Poland and Bulgaria, other EU countries have started to “get involved”, even Germany – the EU’s biggest importer of the Russian gas, announced on 10 May that it would not pay in roubles.

On 27 April, when Russian gas imports came to a halt, the Government Plenipotentiary for Strategic Energy Infrastructure of Poland Piotr Naimski, told the radio channel RMF FM that the move to abandon them was faster than Warsaw had hoped for, as the country had been preparing for it for six years. Under normal circumstances, the contract with Gazprom expired in December of the current year.

One of the reasons for the accelerated progress is the liquefied gas terminal in Gdansk, which will provide Poland with an additional 6 billion cubic metres of gas. The terminal was scheduled to be completed in 2027 but following the decision of the government to accelerate construction, the work is expected to be completed and the terminal commissioned by 2025.

Piotr Naimski also announced that a 10 billion cubic metre gas pipeline from Norway is planned to be launched in October, barring any cataclysms.

On the consistency of the policy, because the methodical work has been going on for at least some time.

On 7 May 2020, Sweden gave permission to Polish natural gas operator Gaz-System to build the Baltic Pipe pipeline in its economic zone in the Baltic Sea, which will bring natural gas from Norway via Denmark to Poland, and which is of strategic benefit to the countries of the Central and Eastern European region (including Ukraine) and ultimately to the EU.

The cost of the project was EUR 1.6 billion, one third of which came from the EU funds. Gaz-System already then expected the project to be completed by 1 October 2022 and it is a fact that these expectations came true.

In parallel, Warsaw has increased its imports of compressed natural gas from the US and Qatar to the Swinoujscie LNG terminal near the Baltic Sea, which will also be completed in 2020. Another floating terminal near Gdansk was already planned at the time, and Poland activated its own exploration of natural gas resources and invested in building pipelines to neighbouring countries.

As expert Artur Bartoszewicz from the Warsaw School of Economy pointed out in connection with the start of the Baltic Pipe construction, Poland that had a gas demand of 18-20 billion cubic metres at the time (which was expected to rise to 26-27 billion in the future at average growth rates), would have to add 4.5 billion to the 10 billion of its own pipeline Baltic Pipe.4 5 billion, increasing the capacity of the Swinoujscie terminal to 7.5 billion cubic metres, and other sources, Gazprom, which had a strong position in Central and Eastern Europe, had little left.

At the time, the Russia considered Poland to be the most promising economic partner of the Group in the region – according to the International Monetary Fund, Poland’s economy had the second fastest growth rate in the Community from 2004, when the country joined the EU, until 2015.

According to an expert in Warsaw, Moscow and Gazprom missed their chance even then, although EU-Russia cooperation in this area would have been beneficial for both sides. Instead, they “got” the significance of Baltic Pipe for the whole region, which is constantly emphasised by Polish politicians.

Now the EU, no doubt at the suggestion of determination of Warsaw, has stated that it is ready and planning a coordinated response if Moscow stops gas supplies to the entire 27-nation bloc, not just to Poland and Bulgaria.

As President of the EC Ursula von der Leyen wrote on Twitter, Russia is trying to use gas for geopolitical blackmail, demonstrating that it is an unreliable supplier. Europeans can rely on the unity of the Community, on solidarity with the affected Member States.

The EC President also informed that Brussels is discussing alternative suppliers of natural gas.

On 3 May, at a meeting in Brussels, Minister Anna Moskwa proposed – by the way, paragraph to paragraph – the EU to introduce a tax on all Russian raw materials (in line with the recommendations of a working group set up in Ukraine), which would also contribute to motivating Community member states to accelerate the phasing out of Russian energy imports. They would simply become less commercially attractive and would encourage finding alternatives as soon as possible.

Energy can already be seen as a component of a targeted comprehensive policy and even as guidelines for the future of our region.

The International Donors’ Conference held in Warsaw on 5 May raised EUR 6.5 billion for Ukraine. Summing up the result, Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki encouraged Ukraine to be granted the EU candidate status as soon as possible, as this would make a significant contribution to maintaining the moral strength of the Ukrainian nation.

The Donors’ Conference held also in Warsaw on 9 April, raised EUR 9.1 billion for Ukraine.

On 5 May, President of Poland Andrzej Duda publicly pledged that there would be no border between his country and Ukraine, so that the Polish and Ukrainian nations could build a happy future together and build the strength to face any future threat.

This frightened the dictator of Belarus – Aliaksandr Lukashenka “fantasised” (by his own admission) that his country might have to defend the territorial integrity of Ukraine together with Russia.

Arūnas Spraunius

 

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