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Opinion

Opinion: Less Russian gas - whatever the cost

The EU Energy Commissioner wants member states to pay a single price for Russian gas. DW's Henrik Böhme would like to see Europe move faster toward reducing its dependency on Russia fuels, regardless of the price.

Europeans are afraid of cold feet. Literally. Maybe not in summer. But certainly in winter. When natural gas supplies from Siberia begin to dwindle, German heaters become less effective.

Europe has made itself dependent on Russia for its energy supplies, in both gas and oil. About a third of all of Europe's energy imports originate in Russia. The debate is not new. Whenever Russia and Ukraine go at each other over the issue of gas prices, it comes up. Especially when the disputes actually result in less gas arriving in Europe, as was the case in 2006, and then again in 2009.

In the last five years there has been a move for Europe to decrease this dependency on Russian energy. That is easier said than done, for two main reasons. First, there are not many alternatives. There are not enough terminals for re-processing maritime shipments of liquid natural gas, for example.

The other reason is that Europe's efforts to switch to more sustainable forms of energy, such as wind an solar energy, is not going along quite as planned. Though developing alternative sources would certainly be the best way of showing Moscow who's boss, the reality is that Europe will need Russian energy for some time.

Russia's dominance as a supplier is an important concern in Brussels. Authorities in Brussels are investigating whether Gazprom has inhibited gas deliveries between individual EU member states, and whether links between the price of oil and the price of gas are legal. There is a fine, if Gazprom is found guilty of these charges, and it could be as high as 15 billion euros.

So yes, Russian President Vladimir Putin and his business associates would be very careful at this point reducing gas supplies to Europe again. After all, about 70 percent of Russia's exports to Europe come from oil and gas. Doing a quick deal with the Chinese is unlikely, as most of Russia's pipelines flow to the West.

Still, if Europe could manage to stop buying just gas from Russia, it is unlikely to do any real damage to Moscow. Some experts believe those gas exports only account for about eight percent of income from all Russian exports of goods. Russia makes substantially more on taxes from oil production than gas production.

What's needed now is a show of unity from Europe's energy customers. These customers must lock elbows and appear in Moscow as one entity. This is the idea behind a plan promoted by Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk. This at first sounds as unlikely as the creation of a European banking union. But the banking union is taking shape.

Europe would also do well to work harder on weaning itself off fossil fuels regardless of its source. The days of using gas or oil to accomplish foreign policy aims should be numbered.