The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Poland spent decades trying to quit Russian gas. Now it has no choice.

The country’s energy guru, Piotr Naimski, has spent years building infrastructure to free Poland from Russian gas. As Moscow cuts imports, his plan faces a dramatic test.

Piotr Naimski, Poland's energy czar, has been racing to make the country independent from Russian gas. (Mateusz Wlodarczyk/NurPhoto/Getty Images)

WARSAW — Poland’s energy czar has spent much of his adult life preparing to break the country’s dependence on Russian natural gas. The coming weeks will bring a sudden and dramatic test of his efforts.

Piotr Naimski and his colleagues in Poland’s Energy Ministry had been racing to fully cut Russian gas imports late this year after Moscow’s invasion of Ukraine. But Russia’s abrupt decision to stop deliveries this week is forcing Poland to go it alone months ahead of schedule.

Poland’s success or failure in coping without Russian gas will help guide other European nations that are facing similar breaks with Russian energy — either by their own choice or the Kremlin’s.

“We are prepared,” Naimski said in a Polish radio interview Wednesday morning, hours after Russia informed Poland it was ceasing deliveries. “We have the ability to bring enough gas to Poland, so that there is enough for everyone. We can remain calm.”

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen said April 27 that Russia's decision to halt gas supplies to Poland and Bulgaria was an "instrument of blackmail." (Video: Reuters)

Russia cuts off gas to Poland, Bulgaria, stoking tensions with E.U. over Ukraine

Poland and a handful of its neighbors, including Lithuania, are well ahead of other European countries in preparing for life without Russian gas. Still, ensuring stable energy supplies in the coming weeks could be a high-wire act.

The nation of 38 million has generally imported about half of its natural gas from Russia, using it to heat and power countless homes and factories.

Officially, Russia said it was cutting off Poland because Warsaw refused to start paying for gas in rubles instead of euros, though some analysts said Russia is probably punishing Poland for its strong support of Ukraine.

“Poland is the sixth-biggest European market, and I think they wanted to show they can use this [punishment] with a large partner,” said Marcin Roszkowski, president of the Jagiellonian Institute, a think tank in Warsaw.

NATO members

Pipelines

Yamal-Europe

NOR.

FIN.

SWE.

Northern

Lights

North

Sea

Nord

Stream

EST.

LIT.

RUS.

Brotherhood

GER.

BEL.

POL.

KAZ.

UKR.

HUN.

CRO.

ROM.

CRIMEA

ITALY

BUL.

GEO.

GRE.

TUR.

IRAN

200 MILES

Sources: S&P Global Platts, Gascade Gastransport,

Trans Adriatic Pipeline

THE WASHINGTON POST

NATO members

Pipelines

NOR.

SWE.

FIN.

Yamal-Europe

North

Sea

Nord

Stream

Northern

Lights

EST.

Moscow

LIT.

Brotherhood

RUS.

GER.

BEL.

POL.

KAZ.

Kiev

UKR.

HUN.

CRO.

ROM.

CRIMEA

ITALY

GEO.

BUL.

GRE.

200 MILES

TUR.

IRAN

Sources: S&P Global Platts, Gascade Gastransport, Trans Adriatic Pipeline

THE WASHINGTON POST

NATO members

Pipelines

NORWAY

Yamal-Europe

FINLAND

200 MILES

SWEDEN

North

Sea

Nord Stream

Northern

Lights

ESTONIA

Moscow

Brotherhood

LITHUANIA

RUSSIA

Berlin

Minsk

GERMANY

Warsaw

BELARUS

Frankfurt

POLAND

Kiev

KAZAKHSTAN

UKRAINE

Separatist-

controlled

area in Ukraine

HUNGARY

Verona

CROATIA

ROMANIA

CRIMEA

Annexed by

Russia in 2014

ITALY

BULGARIA

GEORGIA

Lecce

GREECE

Ankara

TURKEY

IRAN

Sources: S&P Global Platts, Gascade Gastransport, Trans Adriatic Pipeline

THE WASHINGTON POST

In an interview at his Warsaw office late last week, Naimski sketched out his grand plan — more than 20 years in the making — to switch to gas from Norway, the United States and other allied nations.

Gesturing toward a wall of maps, the 71-year-old secretary of state for energy infrastructure showed off a nearly completed network that Poland has spent years building: a multibillion-dollar terminal to import liquefied natural gas via ship, a spiderweb of pipelines crisscrossing Poland and connecting it to friendly neighbors, and an undersea pipeline from Norway scheduled to be opened Oct. 1.

“We can do it. We can do it,” Naimski said of Poland and its European neighbors considering a break with Russian energy. “Every sanction is costly, but it’s not possible to count it just in money these days,” he said, referring to the suffering Russia’s invasion is inflicting on the Ukrainian people.

E.U. presents plan to cut Russian gas imports by two-thirds this year, stops short of boycott

Poland consumes about 20 billion cubic meters (bcm) of gas a year. About half of that has come via pipelines from Russia. Poland produces 3 bcm domestically and imports more than 6 bcm of liquefied natural gas, or LNG, a year through a relatively new Baltic Sea port that is set to expand this year. Much of that LNG comes from the United States and Norway.

The most important piece of Poland’s independence strategy is the soon-to-be christened pipeline from Norway, which the nation’s minister of climate and environment, Anna Moskwa, calls “the great pride of Mr. Naimski.”

When that underwater link starts shipping gas in a few months, it will have the capacity to deliver 10 bcm to Poland a year — more than making up for the quantities Russia was supplying.

A big question now is whether Norway and Denmark, whose territory the pipeline crosses, will cooperate to speed the start date of the pipeline.

Roszkowski said it might be possible to open the pipeline earlier. But even if not, he and other analysts said Poland should be able to weather the next several months because its gas storage tanks are more than 75 percent full and because it can probably import some gas from Germany in a pinch.

A new pipeline between Lithuania and Poland, built under Naimski’s direction, is also set to be opened May 5, which will allow the neighbors to share gas.

For Poland, “it’s not really much of a crisis,” said Laurent Ruseckas, an energy analyst with S&P Global.

Naimski’s colleagues in government are also projecting confidence.

“Poland is an energy-safe country that does not have to and will not succumb to Russia’s gas blackmail,” Moskwa, the climate and environment minister, tweeted Wednesday.

Naimski said he began prioritizing energy independence as Poland’s chief of security and intelligence in early 1992, when shortly after the breakup of the Soviet Union, Moscow abruptly stopped delivering gas to Poland for several days.

“It was winter,” he recalls. “We had to prepare a list of industrial entities to be cut off from gas supply in case we wouldn’t have it.”

Germany asks people to reduce gas consumption; Poland to halt Russian oil imports

Russia soon restarted deliveries, calling the breakdown an accident amid the chaos of the Soviet Union’s dissolution. But the incident fueled Naimski’s doubts that Poland could ever rely on a country that had brought it “200 years of wars, partitions, occupation and the communist regime.”

“Historically, Poland was for Russians the target, the target for political dominance,” Naimski said. “So for us in Poland, cutting these lines, these tools enabling the Russians to interfere in our internal issues or undermine the sovereignty of Poland, is the crucial issue.”

Naimski started pushing for a new pipeline from Norway, but in Poland’s early years of post-Soviet independence, not everyone saw energy as a vital component of the nation’s sovereignty, he said.

Then in 2001, Naimski and his right-wing political allies lost power. The new left-leaning government that took over abandoned the pipeline project, he said.

Naimski’s Law and Justice party returned to power in 2005 and began laying plans to build the LNG import terminal on Poland’s Baltic coastline. The floating terminal was completed in 2016.

Naimski also revived talks with Norway and Denmark about the undersea pipeline, but when his party left government a few years later, the project died for a second time.

When Law and Justice returned to power after the 2015 elections, Naimski approached Norway and Denmark for a third time.

“I met some colleagues I knew from the past in Copenhagen and Oslo,” he said. “Some of them were asking even whether we were really serious. But we were, and we are. And what we have today is the proof.”

Having this cutoff hit at the end of the heating season, as spring begins, will make it easier to cope, said Robert Tomaszewski, energy analyst at the research firm Polityka Insight.

He doesn’t foresee problems with a lack of supply, but gas price spikes could help fuel already high inflation across Europe if other countries also lose access to Russian energy, he said.

“This is the biggest risk — that there will be fuel, but the prices will be higher,” he said.

Naimski’s next priority is to complete construction of a second LNG terminal, in the port city of Gdansk. It was originally scheduled for completion in late 2027, but he’s aiming to get it done by 2025.

After Poland secures its own domestic supply, Naimski hopes to have gas left over to provide to the nation’s E.U. allies.

“If necessary or demanded, we will have a possibility to send something abroad to the neighbors,” he said. “So, you know, for the region, this is really a game changer.”

War in Ukraine: What you need to know

The latest: Russian President Vladimir Putin signed decrees Friday to annex four occupied regions of Ukraine, following staged referendums that were widely denounced as illegal. Follow our live updates here.

The response: The Biden administration on Friday announced a new round of sanctions on Russia, in response to the annexations, targeting government officials and family members, Russian and Belarusian military officials and defense procurement networks. President Volodymyr Zelensky also said Friday that Ukraine is applying for “accelerated ascension” into NATO, in an apparent answer to the annexations.

In Russia: Putin declared a military mobilization on Sept. 21 to call up as many as 300,000 reservists in a dramatic bid to reverse setbacks in his war on Ukraine. The announcement led to an exodus of more than 180,000 people, mostly men who were subject to service, and renewed protests and other acts of defiance against the war.

The fight: Ukraine mounted a successful counteroffensive that forced a major Russian retreat in the northeastern Kharkiv region in early September, as troops fled cities and villages they had occupied since the early days of the war and abandoned large amounts of military equipment.

Photos: Washington Post photographers have been on the ground from the beginning of the war — here’s some of their most powerful work.

How you can help: Here are ways those in the U.S. can support the Ukrainian people as well as what people around the world have been donating.

Read our full coverage of the Russia-Ukraine war. Are you on Telegram? Subscribe to our channel for updates and exclusive video.

Loading...