We need to conserve energy to a fault. The colder it will be outside the window, the better we will understand that such an approach is justified – says the former minister of climate Michał Kurtyka in an interview with BiznesAlert.pl.
BiznesAlert.pl What does the leak from Nord Stream 1 and 2 reveal?
Michał Kurtyka: The creeping conflict is moving from energy carriers to infrastructure, and this is happening at the center of the common territory in the Baltic Sea, which is an integral sphere of our security. That’s a bad sign. The conflict is transforming from a confrontation based on starving Europe of hydrocarbon supplies to potentially threatening supplies from other directions. The next phase has elements of attacks on critical infrastructure. After all, it was critical energy infrastructure that was attacked by Russia in the first place during the invasion of Ukraine. Today, we do not know what was the cause or the course of the explosions on Nord Stream 1 and 2. However, we know that this could not have happened for natural reasons. There must have been sabotage. If that was the Kremlin’s decision, then we should be concerned. And we cannot rule out further acts of sabotage even if the costs are borne by Russia.
Why would the Russians attack?
It is a convenient excuse in Russia, that supposedly their infrastructure fell victim to capitalists that want to convince Europe to buy LNG. This stems from the soviet stereotype about American greed, and is fuelled by stories about a US attack. This creates a sense of danger in Russia, which is once again becoming a fortress besieged by NATO. Nord Stream 1 itself was the last gas pipeline in Europe to systematically deliver gas to Europe before the summer holidays. One of the last footbridges between us was blown up. There is no room for compromise because this infrastructure cannot be used. The incident occurred on the day of the launch of the Baltic Pipe. This may be a signal that no energy infrastructure is safe and NOT and Poland interpret this event this way. It is now important for Poland to strengthen the physical security of its energy infrastructure. The LNG terminal in Świnoujście, the transmission infrastructure, as well as the aforementioned Baltic Pipe-they must be protected. Defending this infrastructure is our raison d’etat. The Baltic Sea is a strategic waterway between NATO and Russia. The Danish Straits must be open for gas tankers and coal bulk carriers. Putin knows exactly what we are missing and we can be sure that he will want to disrupt supplies this winter. It would be good if Poland could draw conclusions about the condition of its own Navy. We should expand our priorities from homeland security to security provided by the military, including our access infrastructure and energy supplies. We must work closely within NATO with our neighbors in this area. These are common challenges.
Some say it’s time to return to gas from Russia. Is that the right opinion?
We will be hearing more and more of these voices the longer the winter will last. The amount of gas reaching Europe during a mild winter is just enough. It takes little to run out of energy resources. There is an obvious calculation of the Russians that European societies will not withstand economic pressure, people will take to the streets as in Prague or Rome, political changes will begin as in Great Britain or Italy. Politicians still advocate unity in the West, but this will not always be the case. It’s natural. Public fatigue, inflation, shortages can sweep away the attitude in just a few months. Therefore, even now, while we have a relatively mild autumn, it is necessary to save energy and educate why it is necessary. We can not think: “it will be fine”. After all, even a few months ago (despite the war), no one expected that Russia would blow up its own gas pipelines and not deliver gas to Germany, and that there would be no longer the possibility of buying “from the German”. So we have to save to a fault. The colder it will be outside the window, the better we will understand that such an approach is justified. The reduction in consumption is, of course, due to record prices, but a number of industries still benefit from long-term contracts at old prices, which will not have an incentive to save. In contrast, gas, coal and electricity will be worth their weight in winter. A little effort now can make it easier to get through the winter unscathed. There are many indications that it will be a difficult winter. Supply imbalances may not necessarily occur globally, but regionally. We need to prepare for this with contingency plans, crisis plans, to have a ready response, to have a strategy of what industries we are protecting in the first place and why.
Will this be the topic of the Warsaw Security Forum (WSF)?
The idea of the WSF, the largest security conference in Central and Eastern Europe, is this year also to include energy as an equal pillar of the discussion. This is an intuition from before February 24, which is confirmed by the events in Ukraine. We will talk about military and energy security in one place in Warsaw. Energy infrastructure also needs to be reconsidered from the military point of view and its adaptation. The event is international in nature. The context of the launch of the Baltic Pipe and the incapacitation of Nord Stream 1 and 2 will be an additional challenge in the discussion of the numerous defense and energy ministers of our region. Being responsible for the energy path, I am pleased that my invitation to the Security Forum has been accepted for the first time by numerous ministers responsible for energy. The Director-General of the European Commission, the head of the European regulators, will be present, so I can say: we are entering the subject of energy at the right time and with a bang. And we know that by working together we can win with Putin.
Is it possible to talk about energy security without hard security?
There is no sovereignty without energy sovereignty. We were right and the facts prove it. Now is the time to translate that into concrete demands. It was in Warsaw at the NATO summit of 2016 when a strong point was made that the events in the energy sector were important for the Alliance, and the goals related to diversification and security of supply of energy sources will be backed up with intelligence cooperation with other organizations, such as the EU and IEA. From that moment on, military security was clearly present in the energy debate. Many months before February 24, we talked about the security of energy infrastructure. I have raised this issue to the level of priorities in the Climate Ministry. While we used to look mainly at cybersecurity in the energy sector, after recent events we have to reckon with a much bigger threat. Physical protection is a priority. And here it is necessary to develop a new quality of military cooperation with the energy sector, understanding each other’s specifics and tasks.
Interview by Wojciech Jakóbik