‘Gas was our drug’: defiant Poland vows to wean itself off Russian energy 2022-04-29 23:00:00


hNatalia Pałczyńska She was in shock after the heating and hot water at her elementary school went out without warning on Wednesday. “We were totally surprised,” she said. Unless gas starts flowing again soon, she said, “we’ll have no choice but to close our doors until that happens.”

The school, located in the village of Miشيesko in western Poland, was in one of about 10 administrative districts where homes, health centers, kindergartens and local businesses – as well as thousands of residents – lost heating after Moscow Gas supplies to Poland and Bulgaria stopped It’s 8 am on Wednesday. The affected area was relatively small and unusual in that it was dependent only on Russia for gas. But it was seen as an indication of what could happen more broadly if Moscow cuts off supplies to countries far more dependent than Poland which, while it gets 40% of its gas from Russia, only uses gas for 9% of her needs. power requirements.

Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki complained of a “direct attack”, accusing Russia of “putting a gun to our heads,” but saying that Poland “will succeed so that the Polish people do not feel any change,” and urged the Poles in a televised address: “Please do not be afraid.”

But in Micesco at least, the fear was palpable. The mayor’s office phones were constantly ringing as residents called to say they had, as a local woman told Polish TV, “turned off by Putin.”

The Kremlin said it had halted supplies because Warsaw and Sofia had not responded to its demand to pay for gas in rubles. The two EU member states, who are among the most vocal supporters of a rapid withdrawal of Russian gas, said they would not succumb to blackmail and that this provocative move was one they could handle.

But it has pushed Europe to the brink of an energy crisis, leading to a 20% increase in already high wholesale gas prices. There is concern that Russia could do the same elsewhere, such as Gazprom’s most important customer in Europe, Germany – which takes 55% of its gas from Russia and has paid it €5 billion for gas and oil since the start of the Gazprom project. Ukraine The conflict – or for other countries, such as Italy, Finland, Croatia and Latvia, which are also highly dependent on Moscow.

the industry in Poland Puts on a brave face. “We are fully prepared for this,” said Tomas Zielinski, Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Polish Chamber of Chemical Industries, which represents about 13,000 companies and more than 320,000 jobs. In his office in downtown Warsaw, he noted the fact that gas storage facilities in Poland were 76% full, compared to the EU average of just 30% (33% in Germany). He said the government had spent years working with companies to reduce their dependence on Russia.

Russian gas supplies in Europe

In 2015, a liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal opened in the northwestern port city of Schwinoujsje, near the German border, capable of covering a quarter of Poland’s gas needs. It is extended to increase intake by about 10%. Its squiggly yellow tubes have often provided the backdrop to recent television reports and government interviews in which attempts are being made to reassure Poles. It has become something of a symbol of the nation’s hope in him two energy(Energy Security), the new buzzword.

This fall, the much-acclaimed Baltic pipeline, which is seen as a response to the German-Russian Nord Steam 2 project, is due to go into operation. Stretching from Norway through Denmark to Poland, it will be able to transport about 10 billion cubic meters of gas each year, about half of national requirements. Another pipeline nearing completion will connect Poland with the LNG terminal in the Lithuanian coastal city of Klaipeda, and existing pipelines connect Poland with Germany and the Czech Republic.

“Poland was not surprised by what happened, it was something that had always been expected,” said Joanna Maikowiak Bandera, president of Forum Energii, a non-governmental organization that includes business, management and science, which focuses on the energy transition. She hoped this would speed up Poland’s slow decarbonization efforts, not least, she said, because “it is now clear to most people that fossil fuel sales have already fueled Russian aggression.”

The image presented by business and politics may be stoic, she said, and has helped unite a polarized country, but “the atmosphere is very tense.”

Requests for interviews with 12 manufacturers that rely heavily on gas, from glass to cardboard producers, were denied, with one admitting that “the issue is now too delicate” to talk about.

Maćkowiak-Pandera said the government has reduced Poland’s dependence on Russian coal, which supplements insufficient domestic supplies and is used to heat a large percentage of Polish homes. “It’s only recently that people have realized that it’s Russian coal that is giving us polluted air and there is a lot of pressure to stop this,” she said. “In a way, this is more important to us than the gas issue.”

I asked whether the national campaign for derusyfikacja (Removing Russification) would push the case dekarbonizacja (Decarbonization) is on the agenda, increasing demand for coal, or – as she hoped – helping drive Poland away from it. Support for phasing out Russian coal is high – 94% of citizens in a recent poll said they would pay more to switch from Russian supplies. “But nobody says how much they’d be willing to pay,” she said. Household coal prices have already gone up 300% in the past year. “So, as a result, we expect to see a lot of energy poverty next winter.”

There is speculation that frenzied efforts to meet rising demand for coal may have caused two deadly explosions last week at mines in Silesia, southern Poland, that killed 18 miners, while seven others are still missing.

Bernard Solzina, a power engineer with progressive think tank Instraat, said that while he couldn’t help but be shocked by the events that drove him, “a radical shift is taking place in the window of discourse in Poland now”. He said that the idea of ​​”a diversion from fossil fuels from Russia was until recently a fringe idea, and now it is seen as a base scenario.”

Poland has spent years telling its neighbors Europe You should stay away from Russian supplies. Word niepodleglosc (Independence) has a deep emotional meaning connected to Poland’s past under the yoke of foreign powers, most recently the Soviet Union. Nowadays it is often used in connection with the discussion of energy.

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History means that trust toward Russia was low from the start, but daily experience didn’t help. Over the past 18 years, Russian gas has stopped flowing at least seven times, sometimes for a few days, once for half a year. “We were keen to be independent, as we were sometimes accused of rejecting the Russians, especially by German politicians. But this idea was never brought up in the financial markets, because the low price was the driving force,” said Maikoviak Bandera.

Russia is “like Pablo Escobar,” said Paul Rosinsky, an economic commentator for the conservative newspaper Rzeczpospolita. “Gas was like our drug and it turned out to be highly addictive because it is cheap, efficient and more environmentally friendly than other sources of energy. Poland was forced to be vigilant very quickly…but we lost a lot of time defending coal because we thought it protected our sovereignty…and one The side effects would be much higher energy costs.”

For Wojciech-Mroz, the cut is more important from an ethical and moral point of view. The 24-year-old spatial economics student, who runs his own payment company, Pagaspot, has been at the forefront of efforts through the Catholic Youth Organization to help some of the three million Ukrainian refugees, according to a border police report, who have arrived in Poland since the start of the war. Roughly 20,000-25,000 people are still arriving daily, and the numbers are not expected to stop any time soon.

“It is a good thing that this is happening now because it saves our government from having to take this step itself. And even if it does not end the war, if we keep taking gas, it will not stand by Poland’s massive national efforts to help Ukrainian refugees and save lives,” he said.

Max de Doliwa Zelensky, 23, an economics student from Krakow whose recent plans for a job with a German chemical company in eastern Ukraine were marred by war, said the situation was causing friction at home. My father, who is a businessman, said that we and Europe made a mistake by trusting Russia at all. We should never have it.” His German mother thought otherwise, he argued, arguing that Germany had nurtured the naive hope of helping Russia’s transition to democracy through its close trade ties, Wandel durch Handel – or “change through trade” policy).

“Poland has long been yelling to the Germans about the need to diversify, saying that Russia is too unpredictable. But as we see now, actions have pushed politics into a dark corner.”