The European Union has committed to eliminate all Russian fossil–fuel imports by 2027. Progress has been made, with sanctions on oil and coal already introduced. The glaring exception is natural gas, on which the EU has so far refrained from imposing limitations, owing to greater dependence on Russia. Nevertheless, pipeline gas imports have fallen by four-fifths following Russia’s weaponisation of gas supplies.
However, Russia’s exports of liquified natural gas (LNG) to the EU have increased since the invasion of Ukraine. The EU needs a coherent strategy for these LNG imports.
Our analysis shows that the EU can manage without Russian LNG. Anticipated impacts are not comparable to those felt in 2022 as Russian pipeline gas dried up. The regional impact would be most significant for the Iberian Peninsula, which has the highest share of Russian LNG in total gas supply. Meanwhile, the global LNG market is tight, and we anticipate that Russia would find new buyers for cargos that no longer enter Europe.
We discuss the options available to the EU. Wait-and-see implies delaying any action until 2027, while soft sanctions would discourage additional purchases but not break long-term contracts. We argue instead for an EU embargo on Russian LNG, to reduce exposure to an unreliable and adversarial entity, and to limit the extent to which EU consumers fund the Russian state. The embargo may be designed to allow purchases only if they are coordinated via the EU’s Energy Platform, with limited volumes and below market prices. This could be accompanied by the implementation of a price cap on Russian LNG cargos that use EU or G7 trans-shipment, insurance or shipping services.
The European Union has a target of eliminating all Russian fossil-fuel imports by 2027. Swift progress has been made, aided by Russia’s own decision to decrease natural gas pipeline exports to the EU. However, the EU’s liquefied natural gas imports from Russia have remained remarkably stable. Discussions are ongoing about adding Russian LNG to the list of products banned from import to the EU (Table 1).
Throughout 2022, Russia cut natural gas pipeline exports to the EU steadily, but did not reduce exports of LNG, which had been much smaller in volume. In the year after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, LNG exports to the EU were valued at €12 billion. Unless there is decisive change from the current situation, the EU could pay up to another €9 billion to Russia in the second year of the war (Demertzis and McWilliams, 2023).
Table 1: EU imports of Russian energy (GWh)
|Context||March 2022 imports||March 2023 imports|
|Crude oil||EU embargo from 5 December 2022||105,000||12,000|
|Diesel||EU embargo from 5 February 2023||23,100||290|
|Pipeline natural gas||Russia cut exports; certain EU countries refused to pay in rubles; Nord Stream I pipeline blown up||113,000||24,000|
|Coal||EU embargo from 10 August 2022||31,000||0|
Source: Bruegel based on Eurostat, Bruegel Natural Gas Import Tracker, Eurostat Comext.
Accordingly, in March 2023, the European Union said it had started to develop a mechanism to allow member states to block Russian LNG imports. This would be done by granting permission to EU countries to block Russian companies from booking LNG import infrastructure 3 . This is a similar approach to when Russian companies were prevented from booking gas-storage capacity in the EU that they were then intentionally leaving empty. At time of writing, this proposal is not finalised, and it is unclear how it would affect non-Russian companies that wish to book import capacity for the purpose of importing Russian-origin LNG.
In this context, we outline four different options available to the EU. In the first, ‘wait-and-see’, the EU would continue to import Russian LNG and would wait to introduce sanctions until the second half of this decade, when LNG markets are less tight. The second approach, ‘soft sanctions’, would entail a partial effort to reduce imports of Russian LNG without dramatically impacting long-term contracts that form the basis of much EU-Russia LNG trade. Under a full ‘EU embargo’ scenario, sanctions on Russian LNG would force companies to declare force majeure on long-term contracts and no Russian LNG would enter the EU.
A fourth approach, ‘EU embargo with EU Energy Platform offer’, would see the bloc tear up the existing trade structure and return to the table as one entity to negotiate. This could be done through the new EU Energy Platform for joint purchasing of gas, which might make offers to purchase limited volumes of Russian LNG, which would be phased out over time, depending on the situation in Ukraine. This approach could be complemented by the introduction of a price cap on Russian LNG imports that rely on EU or G7 services, including trans-shipments, vessels and shipping insurance.
To assess the options, we begin by providing an overview of the growing role LNG (including from Russia) plays in Europe’s gas mix. We assess the impacts on the EU of an end to Russian LNG imports, by evaluating quantitatively the impact on gas balances and storage, to identify whether the EU would manage without Russian LNG. In investigating the impacts on Russia, we discuss the nature of LNG exports from Russia to the EU, which are characterised by long-term contracts and the multi–nationally owned Yamal liquefication plant. Finally, we discuss the impacts of the options available to the EU on global LNG markets and Russia.
About the Authors
Ben McWilliams is working for Bruegel as an Affiliate fellow in the field of Energy and Climate Policy.
Giovanni Sgaravatti works at Bruegel as a Research analyst.
Simone Tagliapietra is a Senior Fellow at Bruegel.
Georg Zachmann is a Senior Fellow at Bruegel, where he has worked since 2009 on energy and climate policy.