Campaign group Global Witness has called for the EU to ban imports of Russian liquefied natural gas (LNG), after finding member states have significantly increased purchases despite the Kremlin’s ongoing war in Ukraine. 

The non-governmental organisation says analysis of data from Kpler shows EU member states imported more than half of all Russia’s LNG in the first seven months of this year, with an estimated total value of nearly €5.3bn. 

In volume terms, EU countries bought 40% more cubic metres of liquefied gas than during the equivalent period in 2021, Global Witness says in a statement issued on August 30. 

“Buying Russian gas has the same impact as buying Russian oil,” says senior fossil fuel campaigner Jonathan Noronha-Gant. “Both fund the war in Ukraine, and every euro means more bloodshed. 

“While European countries decry the war, they’re putting money into Putin’s pockets. These countries should align their actions with their words by banning the trade of Russian LNG that is fueling both the war and the climate crisis.” 

Noronha-Gant adds that governments should urgently produce a plan for full phase-out of fossil fuels. 

Prior to the invasion, the EU sourced around half of its natural gas from Russia, much of which was delivered through pipelines that are no longer in full operation. Member states quickly turned to LNG instead, with imports surging by 63% last year, largely from the US. 

The EU has vowed to exit Russian fossil fuels entirely by 2027. 

However, Global Witness finds that so far this year, Spain has become the world’s second-largest buyer of LNG from Russia, followed closely by Belgium.  

The two countries were responsible for 18% and 17% of Russia’s LNG exports between January and July this year, it says. Only China bought a larger share of Russian gas, at 20%. 

The findings come despite efforts in Brussels to scale back European purchases of energy from Moscow. EU energy commissioner Kadri Simson said in March the bloc “can and should get rid of Russian gas completely, as soon as possible”, according to Reuters reporting at the time. 

“I encourage all member states and all companies to stop buying Russian LNG, and not to sign any new gas contracts with Russia once the existing contracts have expired,” Simson told lawmakers. 

Global Witness takes aim at trading giants Shell and TotalEnergies for their role in importing Russian gas to Europe. 

It says Total is the largest non-Russian buyer of LNG from the country, purchasing more than 4 million cubic metres since January.  

The group also reiterates earlier findings that Shell bought and sold 12% of all of Russia’s exports between March and December last year, totalling 7.5 million cubic metres of LNG. 

A Total spokesperson says the company condemns Russia’s military aggression in Ukraine, and vowed strict compliance with European sanctions. 

They add Total will not “unwarrantedly transfer value to Russian interests by withdrawing from assets”, nor provide further capital for project development in Russia. 

“In accordance with the European Union’s decisions to maintain at this stage Russian gas supplies, TotalEnergies continues to supply Europe with liquefied natural gas from the Yamal LNG plant within the framework of long-term contracts that it must honour as long as Europe’s governments consider that Russian gas is necessary,” the spokesperson tells GTR. 

“TotalEnergies cannot unilaterally terminate the long-term contract. If we decided not to take the volumes of gas, we would still be obliged to pay for it.” 

Total adds that it recorded an impairment charge of nearly US$15bn related to its Russian business last year, arguing Global Witness’s claims are “politically biased and misguided”. 

A spokesperson for Shell says the company made the decision to withdraw from all Russian hydrocarbons and has stopped buying Russian LNG on the spot market, but still has a long-term contractual commitment in operation. 

“This is in full compliance with sanctions, applicable laws and regulations of the countries in which we operate,” they tell GTR. “We have been clear about this.” 

They add Shell has stopped all purchases of Russian crude oil and refined products, has exited downstream business in Russia such as petrol stations, and is no longer part of any joint venture with state-owned Gazprom. 

“There is a dilemma between putting pressure on the Russian government over its atrocities in Ukraine and ensuring stable, secure energy supplies,” the spokesperson adds. “It is for governments to decide on the incredibly difficult trade-offs that must be made.”