The German government’s hardline on Russia over the Ukraine war is coming under pressure at home amid growing worries about the resulting soaring energy prices and possible gas shortages in Europe’s largest economy when winter comes.
Until now, all mainstream parties – from Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s leftist Social Democrats and its junior coalition partners, the Greens and Free Democrats, to the opposition conservatives, had backed the tough Western sanctions imposed on Russia after it invaded its neighbour.
In recent weeks though, some conservatives leaders have voiced scepticism about the West’s strategy. And while opinion polls show that more than two thirds of Germans still back sanctions, around half think these are hurting Germany more than Russia.
Around half of German households rely on gas for their heating while gas also accounts for a third of industry’s energy. In recent years half of that gas has come from Russia.
But deliveries from Russia have dwindled in recent weeks due what Moscow is calling maintenance issues and Berlin says is weaponizing of energy, prompting the European Union to agree this week an emergency plan to curb demand.
Germany recorded its first monthly trade deficit since 1991in May, partly due to inflation running at around 8%.
“Our entire economic system is in danger of collapsing. If we are not careful, Germany could become de-industrialised,”Michael Kretschmer, conservative leader of the eastern Saxony region, told Die Zeit newspaper in an interview printed on Thursday.
“If we realise that we cannot for now give up on Russian gas, then it is bitter but it is the reality, and we must act accordingly.”
Concerns about government policy on Ukraine are particularly widespread in the former communist East, which has stronger ties to Moscow and stands to be more affected by the looming economic downturn as it is already worse off.
Kretschmer, whose state has a population of around 4million, is calling for the war in Ukraine to be “frozen” and for Europe to push for peace talks.
This would allow both key commodities from fossil fuels to grains to be delivered once more, preventing German economic collapse and famine in Africa, he said. Critics say this would legitimize Russia’s territorial gains and allow it to regroup.
Ukraine’s outgoing ambassador in Berlin, Andrij Melnyk, said on Twitter Kretschmer should stick his own head in the freezer to stop his “Russia fantasies”. Melnyk, who was removed from his post by President Volodymyr Zelenskiy earlier this month, has been outspoken in his criticism of any signs of German wavering over its support for Ukraine.