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The Telegraph
The Telegraph
18 Nov 2023

EU sanctions loophole sees £5bn a year paid to Russia for gas

European Union countries have quietly funded Vladimir Putin’s war machine to the tune of €6.1 billion (£5.4 billion) this year through the purchase of liquified natural gas (LNG), The Telegraph can reveal.

Despite a promise to wean themselves off Russian fossil fuels, the number of cargo ships carrying LNG from Russia to Europe has increased.

The bloc has bought up more than half of Moscow’s LNG exports, with Spain and France being the second and third largest buyers behind China.

Eurostat trade data acquired by The Telegraph shows Madrid sent €1.8 billion to Moscow in the first nine months of the year.

Europe’s second-largest purchaser was France with shipments worth €1.5 billion arriving in its ports, while Belgium followed closely behind buying €1.36 billion worth of Russian LNG.

Some of Kyiv’s most ardent backers in Europe, including Estonia and Lithuania, also continued to send money to Moscow for LNG.

Sale of gas generating huge revenue for Putin

The sales are expected to generate huge revenues for Russia at a time when EU countries are hoping to starve Putin’s regime of the funds needed to wage war in Ukraine.

On Friday, the Russian parliament raised the military budget to a third of total expenditure, equivalent to a massive 6 per cent of Russia’s total GDP.

Previous analysis of European imports of Russian LNG suggested purchases were up 40 per cent compared to 2021, before Vladimir Putin ordered the invasion of Ukraine.

This is despite plans by the EU to end its use of Russian fossil fuels by 2027.

Since war broke out, Europe’s pipeline gas flows from Russia have fallen to historic lows, with LNG being used to make up for shortfalls in supplies.

The bloc has sanctioned seaborne shipments of Russian crude oil and oil products, such as diesel.

It leaves member states exposed to any decision by the Kremlin to sever LNG supplies, as it did for piped gas last year.

Bloc on Russia’s fuels 

Earlier this year, Kadri Simson, the EU’s energy commissioner, called for the bloc to reduce its reliance on Russian LNG.

Britain banned the import of Russian supplies of the gas last December, as well as blocking services relating to shipments.

The US is also trying to curb Russia’s plan to become a major LNG exporter, with Moscow planning to produce 100 million tons of the fuel by 2030.

Spain and Belgium have claimed their high purchases are likely a result of traders storing Russian LNG at facilities in their ports.

In September, Madrid’s energy minister said there were no plans to ban Russian LNG, despite the bloc’s soaring imports.

“There is this feeling of scarcity and fear,” Teresa Ribera said at the time, referring to concerns of an energy shortage.

The Belgian ports of Antwerp and Zeebrugge act as hubs for access to 18 markets, including France and Germany, with only 2.8 per cent of gas consumed domestically, according to government data.

The European Commission, which produces sanctions packages on behalf of the bloc, said: “It’s up to member states to decide unanimously on EU sanctions.”