Joe Biden meets German Chancellor Olaf Scholz as resolve on Ukraine is tested

Amid the uncertainty, Biden is eager to demonstrate Western unity against Putin’s aggression. Ahead of the president’s meeting with Scholz, U.S. officials said the two leaders would spend most of their time together discussing the Ukraine issue, including a “robust sanctions package” in preparation to punish Moscow in the event of invasion.

When they sat in the Oval Office, Biden said the United States and Germany were “working together” to deter Russian aggression. They were to hold a press conference later in the day.

The dire facts on the ground gave Monday’s meeting in the Oval Office the air of crisis talks, though Biden also hopes to use the session to get to know Scholz personally, given that they’ll likely be spending far more time. time together over the years to come. They have met once before, when Merkel took Scholz to the top of the Group of 20 in October, but never on equal footing. Biden has sought to restore ties with Germany after former President Donald Trump publicly accused the country of evading its international obligations.

However, the question of Scholz’s determination to take on Putin looms over the meeting. Of the US’s key European allies, Germany has emerged as the most reluctant to commit to lethal aid, sending thousands of helmets instead of weapons and refusing to allow another NATO ally , Estonia, to send German-made howitzers to Ukraine.

Germany has not joined the United States, France, Spain and other allies in bolstering troops along NATO’s eastern flank. And Scholz did not specify in detail what sanctions he might be prepared to impose on a country that is still a major trading partner for Germany.

Frustrated US officials

The impression that Germany is unwilling – or, because of its energy dependence on Russia, is unable – to offer serious deterrents has frustrated some US officials.

Republican and Democratic members of Congress have expressed displeasure, and even Biden has hinted at the divisiveness, saying last month that a “minor incursion” by Russia into Ukraine would spark some disagreement among NATO members over how to react.

A senior administration official on Sunday sought to downplay any concerns about Germany’s position, saying NATO members each bring their own strengths.

“The beauty of having an alliance with 30 NATO allies is that different allies are stepping in to take different approaches to different parts of the problem,” the official said, noting that the United States and Germany were working closely together. on sanctions and that Germany was an important economic player. donor to Ukraine and provided humanitarian aid.

The official also highlighted Germany’s diplomatic efforts, alongside France, to revive a ceasefire agreement between Ukraine and Russia. And the official said the United States and Germany were aligned on their views on building up troops along the Ukrainian border.

“I absolutely think that our countries are united in terms of awareness of the risk of further Russian aggression against Ukraine. We have long shared intelligence with Germany, with the rest of our allies. We are engaged in very regular exchanges of conversations, both by the White House and the State Department, our embassy in Berlin, our other agencies, about the situation. And I think there is absolutely absolute agreement that s ‘there is new Russian aggression, that there are a number of things that need to be done in terms of deploying additional troops to the eastern flank, and imposing a broad package of economic sanctions,’ the manager said.

Scholz insisted that Russia would pay dearly if its troops crossed into Ukraine.

“We are intensely engaged with all of our allied partners in the European Union, with the Ukraine issue, almost no issue occupies us anymore,” Scholz said in an interview with German public broadcaster ZDF before heading to Washington. He went on to say that a Russian attack on Ukraine would have a “very high price”.

Prior to her meeting, Scholz told the Washington Post in a interview published on Sunday that “our response will be united and decisive” to a Russian invasion, seeking to deter the impression of a fractured alliance. Scholz was also scheduled to appear on CNN’s “The Lead with Jake Tapper” on Monday, a rare media blitz for a foreign leader determined to reverse the sense that he is on a different page from the United States.

The fate of Nord Stream 2

Yet the new chancellor declined to say whether a Russian invasion of Ukraine would cause the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which carries Russian natural gas under the Baltic Sea to Germany, to fail, bypassing Ukraine. The United States opposes the pipeline and has clearly stated that it will not go ahead if Putin decides to invade.

A day before Scholz arrived at the White House, Biden’s aides clarified their position, though their incoming visitor was opaque on the matter.

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“If Russia invades Ukraine, one way or another, Nord Stream 2 will not move forward,” White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan said on the show on Sunday. NBC’s “Meet the Press”. “And Russia understands that. We are coordinating with our allies in Europe on this and that will be the reality if Russia chooses to move forward.”

The senior administration official told reporters that the United States had made its position clear to the Scholz administration. “We will continue to work very closely with Germany to ensure the pipeline does not move forward,” the official said.

The Nord Stream issue highlights Scholz’s predicament with Russia for its aggression in Europe. Germany is heavily dependent on Russian energy, making it difficult to impose harsh sanctions without risking an oil and gas shutdown during the cold winter months.

The United States hastily searched the world for alternative sources of energy that could be diverted to Europe, from Asia to the Middle East to domestic American suppliers. The success of the initiative is unclear, and some countries have said their gas supplies have already been reserved.

Scholz, meanwhile, faced the awkward association of a predecessor of his political party with close ties to Russia’s energy industry. Gerhard Schroeder, the latest Social Democratic Party politician to serve as chancellor, sits on the board of Nord Stream 2. And last week Russian gas giant Gazprom announced that Schroeder had also been appointed to its board. administration.

Merkel’s absence

There has been only one other Chancellor since Schroeder left office in 2005: Merkel, whose absence from the world stage after her 16-year term has been keenly felt, particularly as Putin tests the determination of the West.

When Russia last invaded Ukraine in 2014, Merkel played a pivotal role as an intermediary between Putin and Germany’s Western allies. She spoke with him constantly and encouraged other leaders to tighten their sanctions to punish Moscow for annexing Crimea. She also played a pivotal role in updating Washington through the close relationship she had cultivated with then-President Barack Obama.

This time, it is not the German leader who emerges in this role but the Frenchman. President Emmanuel Macron has spoken several times a week with Putin and made his third phone call in a week to Biden on Sunday evening. Macron is traveling to Moscow and Kiev earlier this week.

Scholz has not played such a visible role in defusing the latest crisis, earning him criticism from Germans who accuse the chancellor of making himself invisible in a tense moment. In an apparent attempt to deter that impression, Scholz will also travel to Russia and Ukraine later this month.

About Alma Ackerman

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