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Paige Fusco

The Graphic Truth: Thirsty for Russian energy

Much of the world has long relied on Russian energy to power their economies. That makes it very hard for them to punish the Kremlin for invading Ukraine by ditching Russia's plentiful oil, natural gas, and coal in the near term. So, who's most dependent on Russian fossil fuels? We look at a select group of OECD economies.

A Japanese tanker anchored near an LNG plant on Russia's Sakhalin Island.

REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

Japan’s red line on Russia

Since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, a lot of attention has focused on if, when, and how Europe might wean itself off of Russian energy flows to cripple Vladimir Putin’s war machine.

But there’s another major world economy that borders Russia, depends on Moscow to keep the power running, and faces tough choices because of its close ties to the US.

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Ari Winkleman

The Graphic Truth: Kicking the Russian gas habit

Lithuania made headlines in recent days, announcing that it’s ending all imports of Russian natural gas. Indeed, this shift has been seven years in the making. Spooked by Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014, Lithuania – which at the time got almost 100% of its natural gas imports from Russia – began diversifying its energy procurement methods. Fast forward to 2022, and it's ditching Moscow entirely. The other Baltic states are on a similar trajectory. What efforts have other top EU importers of Russian natural gas made to reduce reliance on Moscow during that same time? We take a look here.

A natural gas pipe in from of EU and Russian flags.

REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

Europe’s Russian gas dilemma

The EU is preparing fresh sanctions against Russia in response to Ukraine’s accusation of Russian war crimes in the Kyiv suburb of Bucha. The new sanctions will likely build on previous ones, but this time Brussels could (finally) target Russian oil and coal.

In light of these gruesome revelations, EU leaders are now coming under even more pressure to ban Russian natural gas imports. The entire bloc will not agree to that, at least not in the short term. But individual EU member states might.

Lithuania — which seven years ago relied almost exclusively on Russian gas to keep the lights on — announced on Sunday that it has completely weaned itself off Russian imports. Will other EU countries follow suit? It depends, given that some are more dependent on Russian gas than others or are landlocked, which makes it harder to get alternative supplies.

Here are a few arguments for and against.

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A worker turns a valve at a Russian oil field near the Ural Mountains.

REUTERS/Sergei Karpukhin

The worst may be yet to come in Russia-Ukraine energy crisis

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has prompted fears of a disruption of oil and gas supplies to Europe, sending prices to new highs. Brent crude futures reached $105 per barrel in the immediate aftermath of the news before falling back; European natural gas prices jumped by as much as 25%.

Coming at a time of already tight supplies, the conflict is bound to maintain upward pressure on prices, unless it becomes clear that Russian exports will not be interrupted. The impact will be felt directly by US consumers and others, and it will contribute further to already-high inflation.

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U.S. President Joe Biden holds a bilateral meeting with Qatar's Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, U.S., January 31, 2022.

REUTERS/Leah Millis

Qatar going global?

On Monday, US President Joe Biden designated Qatar as a major non-NATO ally after hosting its emir at the White House. Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani was the first Gulf leader to meet with Biden in person since he became president.

Biden and Tamim discussed how Qatar might supply more of its plentiful natural gas to Europe in case Russia’s President Vladimir Putin decides to turn off the tap in response to possible US/EU sanctions over the Ukraine crisis. That’s a long shot, given that 90 percent of Qatari gas exports are now tied up in long-term contracts — although Doha has ways to to fill a short-term supply gap if needed.

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What We’re Watching: Biden’s omicron message, Ukraine invasion rumblings, Haitian migrants sue US, China hearts US natural gas

Biden’s omicron message to America. It’s fair to assume that many Americans were anxious to hear what President Biden had to say at a presser Tuesday about the omicron variant ripping through US cities. So what did the commander-in-chief tell the huddling masses? First, he stuck to the White House script, reiterating that vaccinations, boosters, and masks are crucial to minimizing risk from omicron. Second, he reassured parents that schools will stay open despite the surge. There’s other good stuff in the works too: 1,000 military personnel will be deployed to help strained hospitals, and the government will purchase half a billion COVID tests that Americans will be able to order to their homes for free. That’s great, but this scheme won’t be ramped up until January, several weeks into a surge that many analysts say was highly predictable and that the White House should have prepared for. Current testing failures have been particularly problematic in hard-hit New York City, where cases have risen 80 percent in two weeks. But the Biden administration has still failed to offer guidance for 15 million Americans who received an initial single-dose Johnson & Johnson shot, which scientists say doesn’t offer much protection against omicron. Biden’s message was clear: this isn’t March 2020, go celebrate the holidays with your families. But did he convince millions of very worried Americans?

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