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Soaring energy prices multiply the challenges for Ukraine's allies in Europe


The European Union is determined to end its reliance on Russian oil and gas. This week, EU members agreed to ban most Russian oil imports to punish Moscow for its war in Ukraine. But soaring energy prices compounded the challenges for Ukraine's allies in Europe. To learn more, we turn to Ben Cahill. He is a senior fellow at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. Ben, good morning.

BEN CAHILL: Good morning.

MARTIN: Europe has depended on Russia for 27% of its imported oil. How can the EU offset that loss?

CAHILL: Well, it is a lot of oil to displace. I think what we've seen in recent months is that the European Union has started to import more oil from the United States, from West Africa, from North Africa. So there's a big reordering of crude flows around the world with oil from different sources flowing into Europe and with Russia trying to sell as much as it can to India and China and other markets in Asia.

MARTIN: There's a reason Europe gets, you know, more than a quarter of its oil from Russia. The proximity makes it easier to do that. So is Europe going to have to pay more ultimately?

CAHILL: Well, we have to remember that a lot of countries are connected to Russia by pipeline. So if you look at European imports from Russia as a whole, about two-thirds of it is seaborne imports that comes from tankers, and about a third of it is coming from the Druzhba pipeline system, which is the main pipeline from Russia throughout Europe. There's a southern arm and a northern arm. And what we've seen in recent months is that the countries that are really dependent on pipeline imports from Russia, like Hungary and Slovakia and the Czech Republic, they've been much more reluctant to move forward with these sanctions because it's really hard for them to find options. You know, if you are a landlocked refinery, you don't have access to the coast and you can't easily get, you know, alternative oil by tanker, it's much more difficult for you to adjust. And I think that's why the process of passing the sanctions package in Europe has proven to be so difficult.

MARTIN: It's not just oil. EU plans to reduce Russian gas imports by two-thirds this year as well. What alternatives are available for them there?

CAHILL: Well, actually, the EU is moving much more cautiously on natural gas imports. And I think the reason is that a lot of countries depend on pipeline imports from Russia, and there, there really are no easy alternatives. Europe has passed something called the REPowerEU plan, which is basically an emergency plan to reduce dependence on imported fossil fuels in general and imports from Russia as quickly as possible. But this is really not something they can do within a year. It's more like a five-year plan, and there are multiple legs to that plan. Part of it is about energy conservation, using natural gas more efficiently, trying to use different sources for buildings, conservation, just using less energy.


CAHILL: But a lot of it is about finding alternative gas supplies, and that mostly means LNG from the United States, pipeline supplies from elsewhere in Europe, really whatever sources they can find. But, again, this is not really something you can do in a year because the volumes are just so big.

MARTIN: Right. I heard you nod to, you know, Europe's priorities for accelerating the rollout of greener energy resources. But what is the impact of this war and the need to develop alternatives? What's that going to do to the investments in greener energy?

CAHILL: I think there's a really strong conviction in Europe to move away from fossil fuels as quickly as possible. Deploying renewable energy, like wind and solar, is a huge priority, and Europe is pushing ahead as fast as it possibly can. It's making some important policy moves. But, again, I see this as kind of a medium-term, five-year plan, not something that can be resolved within 12 months.

MARTIN: Ben Cahill is a senior fellow with the Energy Security and Climate Change Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. We appreciate your time this morning. Thank you.

CAHILL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.