On Saturday 22 April 2023, the annual International Journalism Festival took place in Perugia, Italy. Svitlana Romanko participated at the panel discussion "Follow the oil: Tracking flows of fossil fuels in wartime russia" on the topic of the investigation, data collection and strategic litigation against European energy companies involved in oil and gas projects in russia, in particular Total Energies and Wintershall Dea. Other participants included Global Witness, Data Desk, Anti-Corruption Data Collective, Le Monde, ZDF frontal, Paper Trail Media and DER SPIEGEL.
Investigations by journalists are critical to reveal the details on joint ventures of the big European energy companies in russia and their continued collaboration with the aggressor state following the invasion of Ukraine and the war crimes committed there. However, Europeans from NGOs to politicians have to do more in order to bring these companies to justice. Therefore, we call on governments to fully investigate the activities of the companies that may have contributed to war crimes committed by russia. Any profits made by European energy companies from joint ventures in russia should be confiscated and used for the post-war rebuilding of Ukraine with clean energy.
The fossil fuels and extractives industries are vulnerable to corruption and abuse of their powerful economic position. To make any headway against these giants, we need to collectively leverage the power of data science, a wide range of investigative journalistic techniques, civil society activists, public interest law and rigorous policy-relevant research.
In August 2022, Global Witness and Le Monde found that TotalEnergies, the French petroleum and energy company, was involved in the production of gas condensate in russia. According to investigations, the produced gas condensate was refined into aircraft jet fuel and then supplied to the russian Air Force bases near Ukraine that are responsible for a number of war crimes, including the bombing of the Mariupol theater.
In October 13, 2022 Razom We Stand and Darvin Climax Coalition issued to Paris anti-terrorist prosecutors a criminal complaint regarding aiding and abetting war crimes. On January 10, 2023 the complaint was dismissed by the prosecutor. According to the reasons for this decision, the public prosecutor's office apparently needed more concrete evidence about the complicity in war crimes by TotalEnergies. We issued an appeal on the decision on March 29, which is in the process of being renewed. However, after our high-pressure legal case and public campaign, on December 9, 2022, TotalEnergies announced that they are stopping collaboration with the russian gas company Novatek.
In November 2022, ZDF and Der Spiegel in collaboration with Paper Trail Media were able to reconstruct the route of gas condensate from joint ventures of Wintershall Dea, Germany's largest crude oil and natural gas producer, to processing plants. Aviation fuel was produced in several processing steps at these plants. Under massive public pressure due to their collaboration with the aggressor nation carrying out horrific brutality upon the Ukrainian people, Wintershall Dea announced its withdrawal from Russia in January 2023 without a concrete timetable.
In February 2023 Urgewald and Deutsche Umwelthilfe (DUH) in solidarity with Razom We Stand together conducted a protest action in front of the representative office of Wintershall Dea in Berlin. This action resulted in an ongoing lawsuit from Wintershall Dea against NGOs before the Dortmund Regional Court, demonstrating an attempt to intimidate and silence civil society.
Now is not the time for governments to push back against justice and Ukrainian people, now is the time for governments to act and seek out, find, investigate, and hold accountable the companies in their jurisdictions who are contributing to the ongoing slaughter of the innocent people of Ukraine. By remaining active in russia, those companies have not only contributed tax revenue to the russian state but, as journalist investigations reveal, participated in supply chains that provide fuel to the military.
The companies concerned say they did not produce the refined products that power russian military equipment, yet that they were selling the raw materials to their Russian business partners and that they had no knowledge or control over its use. This very uncertainty itself indicates the serious risk of contributing to atrocities committed by Russia during its illegal and unjustifiable invasion of Ukraine.
Ukrainian people continue to suffer from daily vicious russian war crimes that are funded by sales of russian fossil fuels, often with collaboration of European fossil fuel companies. Their collaboration with Russia has been well documented and these companies must be held accountable. The task of holding war criminals and collaborators liable for legal violations must not be left to Ukrainian victims of war, or journalists and civil society.
Facts about TOTAL Energies:
- At the time of the investigation by Le Monde and Global Witness, TotalEnergies owned a 49% stake in Terneftegaz, which operates the Termokarstovoye field in Russia’s far north. Its Russian partner Novatek owned 51%.
- Termokarstovoye field produces more than 60,000 barrels of gas condensate, a liquid similar to crude oil, each month. Global Witness has identified hundreds of shipments of jet fuel from the Omsk refinery to Russian Air Force bases near Ukraine, both in the lead-up to the full-scale invasion on 24 February and during Russia’s continued occupation of the east of the country. The supply chain data is supported by high-resolution satellite imagery.
- Days after the publication of the investigation, Total announced that the Russian authorities had approved the sale of its stake in Terneftegaz to its Russian partner Novatek.
Facts about Wintershall Dea:
- Wintershall Dea was in a 50-50 joint venture with a Gazprom subsidiary called Achimgaz to share the Achimov 1A license in the Urengoyskoye field, one of Russia's largest deposits of gas and gas condensate.
- Wintershall initially became involved in joint ventures because Gazprom were unable to access the deep permafrost reserves of natural gas themselves, contributing to unlocking major stores of climate-wrecking fossil fuel.
- For corporate income tax payments in russia alone, the company paid an estimated total of 320 million euros to the federal budget for the first three quarters of 2022. In the same period, Wintershall paid more than 400 million euros in so-called subsidy taxes.