Germany Imports Gas From Russia. But Is It a ‘Captive’?
Departing from diplomatic protocol, Mr. Trump attacked Germany’s relations with Russia over breakfast with NATO’s secretary general, Jens Stoltenberg.
“Germany, as far as I’m concerned, is captive to Russia because it’s getting so much of its energy from Russia,” he said. “So we’re supposed to protect Germany but they’re getting their energy from Russia.”
In a polite but firm response, Chancellor Angela Merkel said that Germany “can make our own policies and make our own decisions.”
Does Germany import a lot of gas from Russia?Yes, but not as much as the president said.
Germany is the world’s largest importer of natural gas, according to its Federal Institute for Geosciences and Natural Resources. The country with the largest natural gas resources is Russia.
Nearly half the natural gas flowing through pipelines into Germany last year came from Russia. Like the rest of the European Union, Germany relies on Russian exports as its main supply of gas and crude oil. Natural gas is the fuel where Germany’s proportion of imports from Russia is highest: it’s about 40 percent for crude oil, and about 30 percent for coal.
Mr. Trump said Germany “will be getting 60 to 70 percent of their energy from Russia.”
In fact, that’s the total amount of its energy needs that Germany gets from any foreign source, and even its gas market is highly diversified. Most of the rest of the gas it imports comes from the Netherlands and Norway.
A new branch of Russia’s Nord Stream pipeline, mentioned by Mr. Trump, might push up the proportion of Germany’s energy that comes from there, but probably not to the figure he gave.
Import figures alone cannot show dependence on a particular natural gas supplier, according to Jonathan Stern, founder of the Natural Gas Research Program at the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies.
Is Germany a ‘captive’ of Russia?Not really.
Germans view Russia more favorably than Americans do. And United States governments have been complaining about Germany’s dependence on Russian gas for years, even if Mr. Trump has done so more bluntly. But Germany has endorsed tough sanctions on Russia even when they looked likely to hurt German business, and German companies have gone along.
Last year, the German manufacturer Siemens stopped delivery of power plant turbines to a Russian partner when it emerged that it was transporting them into the disputed territory of Crimea.
“Germany refuses to see that large energy projects also have a political dimension,” said Marco Giuli, an analyst at the European Policy Center. “For the German side there is no contradiction, the general take in Germany is that energy policy is a full component of commercial, economic policy and the decision should be entirely left to commercial actors.”
One such project is that planned new branch of the Nord Stream pipeline, which would bypass Eastern European countries, including Ukraine, on its way to Germany. It has drawn vocal opposition from Eastern Europe and the United States.
To Mr. Stern, of the Oxford Institute for Energy Studies, that fear is baseless, because Germany’s needs are higher than the planned capacity of the new branch, and cutting off supply on one pipeline would affect the other.
Plus, Europe is Russia’s main gas market. Cutting it off would be a hugely costly move.
Does the U.S. ‘protect’ Germany?It’s complicated.
Mr. Trump has suggested to Mrs. Merkel that the tens of thousands of United States troops stationed in her country may not be worth the expenditure. The United States has long proposed sharp cuts in American forces in Germany.
But the president appears to be doubling down on his point about the military spending of NATO member countries. When he says that the United States spends more than any other member, however, he neglects to say that this is on its own defense.
In examining similar claims last year, The Times showed that Mr. Trump was conflating two things: NATO’s budget covering common civilian and military costs and the goal for each member to spend at least 2 percent of their gross domestic product on their militaries by 2024.
To date, four members — the United States, Poland, the United Kingdom and Estonia — have reached that goal. But none of the NATO allies are technically in arrears.