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WARSAW – Poland has been one of the loudest voices demanding that all EU countries immediately stop buying Russian oil, gas and coal in response to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine – presenting himself as an example for others to follow.
But Warsaw is careful that any cuts do not hurt its people too much – the same concern expressed by other EU countries.
Last weekend, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki launched a poster campaign to “raise the conscience” of Western corporations and politicians. Vans adorned with banners reading “#Bloodoil”, “#stopRussianoil” and images of war-torn Ukraine were beamed across Western Europe from Warsaw.
“Germany, France, Austria, Italy – these countries must do everything possible to stop the war in Ukraine, to suspend funding for Putin’s war machine,” Morawiecki said during a press conference, calling for tougher sanctions, especially in the energy sector. .
His comments come at a time when the EU is considering how and when it could impose an embargo on Russian oil, which could be included in the bloc’s next sanctions package.
Despite the fierce rhetoric, Poland is also struggling to let go of Russian energy.
Poland gets 46% of its gas, 64% of its oil and 15% of its coal from Russia, according to Forum Energii, a think tank. This makes it one of the main European buyers of Russian energy – an uncomfortable position for a government that sees itself as a key ally of Ukraine.
Poland was one of the first EU countries to pledge to ban imports of all Russian fossil fuels. The government said it stopped buying coal from Russia and Belarus this month, while an EU embargo does not come into force until August, after a transition period .
But oil and gas prove more difficult.
Anna Moskwa, Poland’s climate and environment minister, wants the EU to act quickly to ban imports of Russian oil, without a long phase-out period.
“This transition period creates this unnecessary delay: if we are ready for this decision, it doesn’t make much difference whether it’s today or in a month,” she told POLITICO last week.
Despite this exhortation, the government is giving itself some leeway, giving Poland until the end of the year to end purchases of Russian gas and oil.
Moskwa explained that this delay was necessary because it is difficult for a country to end Russian energy imports on its own.
“If we get rid [of it] alone, then it is the challenge of one country. There is still no common energy policy, it is only a crisis reaction, a reaction to the war situation,” she said.
Earlier this month, an amendment to the Coal Ban Act that would also immediately end imports of Russian liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) – used mainly in vehicles and in cooking – was rejected by the authorities. MPs from the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, including Morawiecki.
Two-thirds of the LPG imported by Poland came from Russia in 2020, accounting for more than half of consumption, according to the Polish Liquefied Gas Association. The government estimates that it powers 3.5 million cars.
“Even though we are in favor of sanctions, we think this amendment is bad and harmful,” Polish Deputy Prime Minister Jacek Sasin said after the vote. “Depriving Poles of refueling with cheaper fuel is something cruel, especially since it concerns the less wealthy Poles… In addition, you will affect small Polish entrepreneurs. What do you want to tell them? That you’re going to deprive them of that fuel today?”
Morawiecki said Poland will stop all LPG imports by the end of the year.
This exposed the government to accusations of hypocrisy from the opposition.
“After 58 days of war, government companies continue to buy oil, gas and LPG from Russia, import coal and provide airspace for some Russian cargo flights. Instead of hiding in shame, [Morawiecki] launches a poster campaign to prevent other countries from doing what it does! Michał Szczerba, deputy of the main opposition Civic Platform party, mentioned on Twitter.
It’s not just oil and gas.
Warsaw allows Russian planes to fly over Poland to transport nuclear fuel to Hungary – a country that strongly opposes any new sanctions on Russian fossil fuels and refuses to allow arms shipments to Ukraine to cross his territory.
According to a letter, seen by POLITICO and first reported by Polish news site Onet, the Hungarian Embassy in Warsaw asked the Polish Foreign Ministry earlier this month for permission for the flights, explaining: “Such transport is exceptional and very important for maintaining the operational safety of the nuclear power plant. [in Paks]and to maintain security of supply for Hungarian consumers.
Deputy Foreign Minister Paweł Jabłoński confirmed to POLITICO that such permission had been granted, citing ‘security reasons’ and pointing out that similar approvals had been granted for shipments of Russian nuclear fuel to Slovakia and the Czech Republic.
This provoked another blow from the opposition.
“The sky over Poland could be closed, but the PiS has authorized Russia to transport nuclear fuel over Poland”, tweeted Jan Grabiec, spokesman for the Civic Platform party, said the government should hang the billboards it sent across Europe at the headquarters of the Law and Justice party.
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