October 2, 2023


WARSAW — Poland has been one of the loudest voices demanding that all EU countries immediately stop buying Russian oil, gas and coal in response to Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine — putting itself forward as an example for others to follow.

But Warsaw is ensuring that any cutoff doesn’t hurt its people too much — the same worry being voiced by other EU countries.

Last weekend, Poland’s Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki launched a billboard campaign to “wake the conscience” of Western societies and politicians. Vans bedecked in banners reading “#Bloodoil,” “#stopRussianoil” and pictures of war-ravaged Ukraine fanned about across Western Europe from Warsaw.

“Germany, France, Austria, Italy — these countries must do as much as possible to stop the war in Ukraine, to suspend funding of Putin’s war machine,” Morawiecki said at a press conference, calling for tougher sanctions, especially in the energy sector. 

His comments come at a time when the EU is looking into how and when it could slap an embargo on Russian oil, which could be included in the bloc’s next sanctions package. 

Despite the fierce rhetoric, Poland is also having a hard time abandoning Russian energy.

Poland gets 46 percent of its gas, 64 percent of its oil, and 15 percent of its coal from Russia, according to Forum Energii, a think tank. That makes it one of the top EU buyers of Russian energy — an uncomfortable position for a government that sees itself as a key ally of Ukraine. 

Poland was one of the first EU countries to promise to ban imports of all Russian fossil fuels. The government said it stopped buying coal from Russia and Belarus this month, while an EU embargo kicks in only in August, after a transition period. 

But oil and gas are proving to be tougher.

Anna Moskwa, Poland’s climate and environment minister, wants the EU to act rapidly to ban Russian oil imports, with no long phaseout period.

“This transition period creates this unnecessary delay: If we are ready for this decision, it does not make much difference whether it will be today or in a month,” she told POLITICO last week.

Despite that exhortation, the government is giving itself some wiggle room, allowing Poland until the end of the year to end Russian gas and oil purchases.

Moskwa explained that the delay was needed because it is difficult for a country to end Russian energy imports on its own.

“If we get rid [of it] alone, then it is a challenge of a single country. There is still no common energy policy, it is only a crisis reaction, a reaction to the situation of war,” she said.

Earlier this month, an amendment to the coal-ban law that would also immediately end imports of Russian liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) — used mainly in vehicles and in cooking — was rejected by MPs from the ruling Law and Justice (PiS) party, including Morawiecki. 

Two-thirds of Poland’s imported LPG came from Russia in 2020, accounting for more than half of consumption, according to the Polish Association of Liquefied Gas. The government estimates it fuels 3.5 million cars. 

“Even though we are in favor of sanctions, we think this amendment is bad and harmful,” Poland’s Deputy Prime Minister Jacek Sasin said after the vote. “Depriving Poles of refueling with cheaper fuel is something cruel, especially as it concerns less wealthy Poles … Additionally, you will hit small Polish entrepreneurs. What do you want to tell them? That you will deprive them of this fuel today?”

Morawiecki said that Poland will stop all LPG imports by the end of the year. 

That’s opened up the government to charges of hypocrisy from the opposition.

“After 58 days of war, government companies continue to buy oil, gas and LPG from Russia, import coal and provide airspace for selected Russian cargo flights. Instead of hiding in shame, [Morawiecki] starts a billboard campaign to keep other countries from doing what he is doing!,” Michał Szczerba, an MP from the main opposition Civic Platform party, said on Twitter. 

It’s not just oil and gas.

Warsaw is allowing Russian planes to fly over Poland to transport nuclear fuel to Hungary — a country that strongly opposes any further sanctions on Russian fossil fuels and refuses to allow weapons shipments to Ukraine to cross its territory.

According to a letter, seen by POLITICO and first reported by Poland’s Onet news website, the Hungarian embassy in Warsaw asked the Polish foreign ministry earlier this month for permission for the flights, explaining: “Such transportation is exceptional and highly important to maintain the safe operation of the Nuclear Power Plant [in Paks], and to maintain the security of supply of the Hungarian consumers.”

Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Paweł Jabłoński confirmed to POLITICO that such permission was granted, citing “security reasons,” and stressing that similar approvals were granted for Russian nuclear fuel shipments to Slovakia and the Czech Republic.  

That provoked yet another opposition jab.

“The sky over Poland might be closed, but PiS gave permission for Russia to transit nuclear fuel above Poland,” tweeted Jan Grabiec, Civic Platform party spokesperson, saying the government should hang the billboards it sent across Europe on the headquarters of the Law and Justice party.

This article is part of POLITICO Pro

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