Environmentalist and anti-war campaigner, Svitlana Romanko. Photo: courtesy of Svitlana Romanko

A prominent Ukrainian activist has slammed the “absurd” actions of the EU whereby a partial embargo on Russian oil has done little to stem the tide of aggression that has devastated her homeland.

With war continuing to rage six months after Russian tanks rolled into the Donbas region, Svitlana Romanko, director of Razom We Stand, an NGO supporting the Stand With Ukraine movement, says: “Revenue from fossil fuel exports are a key source of Russia’s military build-up and aggression, providing 40% of the federal budget – yet a complete ban on oil and gas imports from Russia could end this war tomorrow.”

Despite almost universal condemnation of the Russian invasion this February, Europe’s response, in the form of partial sanctions, has seemingly done little to deter Putin. In fact, he has continued to use gas as a pawn in his military campaign, most recently limiting, then turning off, a major pipeline to Germany.

Furthermore, allegations that gas exploited by French oil giant TotalEnergies has been used to fuel fighter jets used by the Russian army in Ukraine have not only caused anger and consternation in Ukraine; they also have shone a light on the world of big business during times of war.

While TotalEnergies robustly denies the findings of Le Monde that have linked it with refueling operations in military bases in southwestern Russia, Romanko says it is pretty much business as usual for a number of global corporations. That is a bitter pill to swallow for most Ukrainians.

She says:

If the allegations are true, it is enormously unjust that while we have lost thousands of lives in this devastating war, and we have had to witness and cope with the barbaric atrocities of the largest fossil fuel dictatorship in the world, TotalEnergies is literally making a profit from the Russian army bombing civilians.

Similarly, there remains a number of Western companies operating within and with Russia. Among them are many big-name banks as well as energy companies.

Sadly, this thirst for surplus profits of western fossil fuel companies has led us to the situation we are in now: war; mounting conflicts in other parts of the world; climate chaos and extreme weather conditions; cost of living and food security upheavals; and the worst human rights violations in history. 

For decades, big western oil companies courted Putin and helped him exploit Russia’s vast reserves. Supported by many banks in western countries, they have poured billions into Putin’s war chest and turned a blind eye to his violent, expansionist efforts.

Fossil fuels and revenues from them feed war in Ukraine and conflicts in other parts of the world. I believe that not only Putin and Russia will bear full and real responsibility for all war crimes committed towards Ukraine and its citizens, but also dictators in other countries of the world and western companies who supported their reign of terror.

Despite partial sanctions imposed on Russia following the February invasion, the EU bloc, until recently, accounted for 61% of Russia’s fossil fuel export revenue since the war started, with Germany, Italy, and the Netherlands—members of both the EU and NATO—being among the largest importers.

However, with Europe currently gripped by an energy crisis that is intensifying by the day, there appears to be little political appetite for further sanctions.

As part of the current economic sanctions, the EU has imposed a number of import and export restrictions on Russia. The list of banned products is designed to maximize the negative impact of the sanctions for the Russian economy while limiting the consequences for EU businesses and citizens.

The EU says it will ban all imports of oil brought in by sea from Russia by the end of 2022 while Germany has frozen plans for the opening of a major gas pipeline from Russia. The EU is less keen to impose sanctions on Russian gas, because it relies on it for about 40% of its gas needs.

However, as the Economist pointed out this month, “the knockout blow has not materialized.” While Russia’s GDP is expected to shrink by 6% in 2022, it is much less than the 15% drop many expected in March.

“The biggest flaw is that full or partial embargoes are not being enforced by over 100 countries with 40% of world GDP,” the magazine notes.

In response, Romanko says climate change proves it is high time fossil fuels were relegated to the past, across the globe, while the EU’s partial embargo on Russian energy supplies was satisfying no one, least of all those fighting in Ukraine.

We have an absurd situation where Europe is paying for weapons to fight against Russia, while simultaneously buying gas and oil from Russia and funding their war. Throughout the war, between 10 and 20 million barrels of Russian oil were arriving in Europe every week. Putin can still sell oil and gas in Europe. Halting the flow of money to Putin and to new fossil fuel development is essential to meeting the world’s peace and climate goals.

Stand With Ukraine is a coalition of more than 840 organizations from 60 countries working to end conflict and climate chaos by driving “the clean energy revolution”.

Romanko says:

The EU is doing a lot to support Ukraine, but it could help us end the war by imposing a full energy embargo on oil and gas from Russia before winter. The EU has to stay bold and determined. It has to scale up investments and policies that enable the immediate renewable energy revolution. Renewable energy represents freedom; freedom from dependence on volatile foreign powers; freedom from unstable markets, freedom to plan our futures, and freedom to build just societies. The German finance minister, Christian Lindner, has declared that “renewable energy is freedom energy.” Germany has to lead the EU’s brave resistance to Russia and Putin and break the dependency on gas. Because it’s not natural gas, it’s war gas. 

Andrea Busfield has been in journalism for more than 25 years, working as a reporter, features editor and copy editor for UK national newspapers, the chief civilian print editor of Sada-e Azadi in Kabul, and deputy editor of Gulf Times in Qatar. A published author, she now works as a freelance journalist based in Cyprus.