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Brandenburg’s Prime Minister questions the import ban on Russian oil

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Brandenburg’s government is questioning the import stop for Russian oil from the “Druschba” pipeline announced by Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) if the continued operation of the PCK refinery in Schwedt is not secured beforehand and there is a risk of fuel supply bottlenecks. That said Prime Minister Dietmar Woidke (SPD) on Thursday after a crisis meeting with those responsible from the region and the PCK Schwedt on site.

“We don’t have much time left,” warned Woidke. He accused Federal Minister of Economics Robert Habeck (Greens) of not doing enough to avert imminent negative consequences. Woidke called on the federal government to temporarily step in as a shareholder in the Schwedt refinery, whose main owner is still the Russian state-owned company Rosneft. The unresolved shareholder question is “a brake pad” to solve the problems.

“I expect a guarantee from the federal government that there will be no supply bottlenecks, no supply uncertainties for our region, for Brandenburg, but also for the other states in Germany,” said Woidke. If this is not secured in time, “then it must be considered whether the embargo makes sense, whether it can be enforced.” And: “I am responsible for this country. I swore an oath of office.”

Previously, Woidke and Economics Minister Jörg Steinbach (SPD) had discussed for almost two hours with PCK manager Ralf Schairer, works council chief Simone Schadow, Uckermark District Administrator Karina Dörk (CDU) and Schwedt Mayor Annekathrin Hoppe (SPD), as was the case almost half a year ago of the precautions announced by the federal government for pipeline oil imports from Russia. With this decision, the federal government is going beyond the EU embargo that exempted pipeline oil.

The conclusion was sobering. And that’s why the Woidke government is sounding the alarm. During his visit a month ago, Habeck promised the staff that the PCK would have a secure future and then set up a task force headed by Parliamentary State Secretary Michael Kellner (Greens). But the task force has only met once so far, and the next meeting is scheduled for early July. “And the first session clearly lacked structure,” said Woidke. He asked Habeck to take the chair himself.

Steinbach criticized that far too little had happened in the past few weeks. “It’s unfortunate that we lost time because we didn’t work consistently.” In order to solve all problems in good time, the task force had to meet weekly at the working level.

On Tuesday, Steinbach and Finance Minister Katrin Lange (both SPD) sent a letter to Habeck with 15 unresolved questions. The mood among the 1,200 PCK employees has continued to deteriorate, said works council chief Schadow. “The workforce is very agitated, depressed in places,” she said. “Everyone is worried about how things will go with your job. Why does this company have to be shut down? We don’t understand that.” She also wrote to the Federal Chancellor last week, demanding commitments.

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At the same time, the PCK management is working flat out to prepare for Day X, when Russian oil from the pipeline will no longer be processed for the first time in 60 years. Instead, tanker oil in particular, which arrives at the seaport of Rostock, is to be routed to Schwedt via an existing pipeline. How big is the risk that Putin will turn off the oil tap to Schwedt before it is supposed to end anyway?

“I don’t have a crystal ball as to how the Russian government will react,” replied PCK Managing Director Ralf Schairer. “We have checked and prepared the alternative supply via Rostock, so that we would be able to compensate for this with a lead time of two months.” So one does not have to assume that such a prior announcement “will result in a supply interruption. However, the refinery would then only be used at 50 percent capacity. According to Woidke, that is not enough for continued economic operation.