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EU purchase of Russian-made liquefied natural gas (LNG) up 40% on pre-war levels

In the first seven months of 2023, European Union countries increased their imports of Russian-made liquefied natural gas (LNG) by 40 per cent, compared to the same period in 2021, according to a study from campaign group Global Witness. 

While pipeline flows from Russia have decreased, shipments of LNG from across the world have surged compared to pre-war levels. EU Member states have purchased more than half of Russia’s LNG on the market so far this year, the analysis of Kpler data found.

Member states Spain and Belgium are the second and third-biggest customers of Russian LNG respectively, while China is the biggest customer.

While Europe’s pipeline gas flows from Russia have plummeted to historic lows since the war, to compensate for the shortfall, shipments of cooled LNG from countries across the world, including Russia, have soared, and are not impacted by any EU sanctions.

Global Witness said the bulk of Russia’s supply was bought by EU countries despite apparent efforts to slash supplies.

“EU countries now buy the majority of Russia’s supply, propping up one of the Kremlin’s most important sources of revenue,” Jonathan Noronha-Gant, a senior campaigner at the group said.

Between January and July of this year, EU countries purchased 22 million cubic metres of Russian LNG – compared with 15 million during the same period in 2021, the year before the war broke out, according to Global Witness. The group projected the EU’s 2023 purchases to be in the region of €5.29 billion.

“This is a much sharper rise than the global average increase in Russian LNG imports, which stands at 6%. EU countries now buy the majority of Russia’s supply, propping up one of the Kremlin’s most important sources of revenue. Between January and July 2023, the EU bought 52% of Russia’s exports, compared to 49% in 2022 and 39% in 2021,” Global Witness said.

Noronha-Gant, a fossil fuels activist with the group, said that EU member states should “align their actions with their words by banning the trade of Russian LNG that is fuelling both the war and the climate crisis” while “lining Putin’s pockets.”

The figures come after a year in which EU leaders pledged to reduce their reliance on Russian energy, and build alternative supplies, after Vladimir Putin cut off the gas taps to Europe.

In response, Spain and Belgium said the figures were not reflective of national purchasing, but rather that their ports were major gateways for the rest of Europe. 

In March, the EU urged member states and private companies to stop buying from Russia. 

It described as “massive and unprecedented” its sanctions against Russia in response to the war against Ukraine.

Meanwhile, Spanish Energy Minister Teresa Ribera asked Spanish buyers not to sign new Russian LNG contracts, describing the situation as ‘absurd’

The sanctions, imposed since February 2022, include targeted restrictive measures (individual sanctions), economic sanctions and visa measures.

The aim of the economic sanctions is to impose severe consequences on Russia for its actions and to effectively thwart Russian abilities to continue the aggression, the EU has said.

Meanwhile, individual sanctions have been aimed at targeting people responsible for supporting, financing or implementing actions which undermine the territorial integrity, sovereignty and independence of Ukraine or who benefit from these actions, according to the EU.

Research recently conducted by Global Witness found that Shell and TotalEnergies have continued trading Russian LNG following the war with Ukraine, with a July 2023 analysis showing Total was the biggest non-buyer of LNG in the country. A previous analysis by the group claimed that between March and December of 2022, Shell bought and sold 12 per cent of all Russia’s exports, over 7.5 million cubic metres of LNG.

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