German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and US President Joe Biden will meet for the first time, with questions about Germany’s commitment to NATO in light of a spiraling battle with Russia that will be big at the White House talks .
Berlin is often regarded as one of Washington’s closest allies, a partnership emphasized by the Biden administration amid its wider campaign to reconnect with European allies. But as diplomatic solutions to the crisis remain scarce, the German government has also been criticized for refusing to supply Kiev with deadly weapons, strengthen Germany’s troops’ presence in Eastern Europe or spell out what sanctions it would support against Moscow. .
Scholz left for Washington, DC on Tuesday, portraying Germany’s position as solid.
The German government, he said, is “very concrete … in what we do for defense in NATO”, referring to the presence of troops in Lithuania and noting that his country is the largest European defense contributor to NATO and massive economic and financial assistance to Ukraine.
Scholz said the trip would reaffirm the strategy of warning Russia that “if there is military aggression against Ukraine, it will come at a high price” while trying to revive diplomatic efforts to calm the situation.
Meanwhile, a senior US official, who predicted Monday’s visit to reporters, called Germany “one of our closest and strongest allies in Europe”, adding that the meeting was seen as an opportunity to continue the continuity of close relations ensure”.
While avoiding the disclosure of concrete requests from Berlin, the official said Washington is coordinating with Germany and other European allies “on a swift and strict package of sanctions that both the US and Europe will impose on Russia in the event of a invasion of Ukraine “.
Following the visit, Scholz, who was sworn in in December to succeed Angela Merkel as head of a new center-left coalition government, will meet with French President Emmanuel Macron and Polish President Andrzej Duda, and hold separate talks with Latvian leaders. . , Lithuania and Estonia.
He will then travel to Kiev and Moscow on 14 and 15 February.
The White House is expected to set the tone for the German chancellor’s next phase of diplomatic efforts, wrote Jeffrey Rathke, president of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies at Johns Hopkins University.
This will give Scholz “the opportunity to turn a page and pursue an effective, coordinated response with Germany’s allies rather than blending into European wallpaper and leaving political, persuasive and public work to others. “.
For Biden, the talks can confirm “the bet that his administration’s extensive efforts to rebuild relations with US allies will pay dividends when needed”.
Nord Stream 2
More clarity on Germany’s position on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, a $ 11 billion project that will supply gas from Russia to Germany through the Baltic Sea, is expected to be at the top of the agenda for the Biden administration.
Washington said they would close the project, which was completed but not implemented. Germany, which relies heavily on Russia for its energy needs, has remained more opaque on the matter.
“If Russia invades Ukraine, Nord Stream 2 will somehow not move forward and Russia understands that we [have] coordinated with our allies, ”Biden’s NSA Jake Sullivan told NBC on Sunday.
Asked if Scholz would publicly promise such a measure, Sullivan replied: “I will let the German chancellor speak for himself.”
Scholz, for his part, told German public broadcaster ARD “nothing is out of the question”.
The White House meeting, meanwhile, comes as Scholz and Biden came under domestic pressure to explain their joint strategy in terms of Russia, with whom Berlin generally sought a post-World War II policy of rapprochement and carefully calibrated ties.
Scholz defended his refusal to supply weapons to Ukraine, and told the Report from Berlin TV program that most Germans shared his view.
“We do not deliver at places in crisis and … do not deliver deadly weapons to Ukraine,” he said.
Yet, last week, “Where’s Scholz?” trend on social media, with conservative opposition leader Friedrich Merz grasping at the government’s lack of “clear words”.
Others in Scholz’s tripartite governing coalition have taken a tougher line on Russia, with Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock of the Green Party calling Russia’s troop deployment at the border with Ukraine a “threat.”
Scholz also quarreled over the consequences of the announcement that his party’s former leader Gerhard Schröder had been nominated by the Russian state-owned gas company Gazprom to join his board of directors.
Schroeder has previously accused Ukraine of “saber-rattling” in its fight with Russia.
Meanwhile, there has been dual US criticism of Germany’s approach, with Republicans and some Democrats calling for assets to be frozen and travel bans on European business officials involved in the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.
Senator Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat and member of the Armed Services Committee, recently told an audience of Ukrainian Americans: “The Germans are currently missing in action. They are doing much less than they need to do.”
Republican Senator Rob Portman, meanwhile, has questioned why Berlin has not yet approved a request to have NATO member Estonia transferred over old German whips to Ukraine.
“It does not make sense to me, and I made it very clear in conversations with the Germans and others,” Portman told NBC.