German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has told CNBC that the West has to work “very hard” to find alternative sources of energy beyond Russia as talks of potential sanctions intensify.
Speaking to CNBC’s Hadley Gamble at the annual Munich Security Conference, Scholz stressed that much of the West is reliant upon Russia’s energy supplies.
“There is a lot of exports of oil, coal and gas from Russia to many countries – there is also a big [export] of oil to the United States,” he said Saturday.
“So we all have to work very hard to produce a situation where we have alternatives. It’s necessary that we also make it feasible that there is good cooperation – that we come back to a situation where there is not this confrontation … This is what we are working for.”
Russia was the largest supplier of natural gas and oil to the European Union last year.
It follows much talk from Western officials over recent weeks about sanctioning Russia — and its energy industry in particular — if it invades Ukraine. Russia has repeatedly denied that it is planning to invade its neighbor but has amassed an estimated 150,000 troops near the border.
There were also multiple claims of shelling across cease-fire lines from both Russian and Ukrainian sources this week. On Saturday, as part of a “planned exercise,” Russia launched ballistic and cruise missiles in a show of its nuclear readiness.
European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told CNBC earlier Saturday that energy sanctions against Russian gas giant Gazprom remained “on the table” if an invasion took place.
However, such sanctions could have significant financial implications for Ukraine, as a number of Russia’s gas pipelines run through the country. Scholz insisted “we are taking care” of the issue.
“We are working very hard to make gas transit via Ukraine something that has a good future,” he said.
“We have already started working very hard to have good gas transit agreements for Ukraine with Russia when the next period will start. This is our responsibility … to make gas transit a question that works through all the pipelines we have, especially the Ukrainian one. But now we are working on peace.”
Scholz isn’t the only one discussing a need to reduce energy reliance on Russia; earlier Saturday both the EU’s von der Leyen and NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that such action is important.
Europe had been “working hard” to reduce its energy dependency on Russia, Stoltenberg said, adding, “we need to be less dependent on energy from one source.”
While von der Leyen stressed that the EU had been successful in reaching out to alternative sources of energy. “We are able to make it through this winter without Russian gas,” she said.