‘I have no doubts about Germany’: Biden, Scholz pledge united response to Russia

Written by on February 8, 2022

President Joe Biden and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz pledged a united response Monday to combat Russia’s aggression against Ukraine – including possible sanctions – amid criticism that Germany has not been forceful enough during the intensifying dispute.

Biden and Scholz, who succeeded Angela Merkel in December, met at the White House amid stirrings of war by Russia over Ukraine and questions of German resolve in Washington. Biden downplayed the divisions, insisting they share a “united approach” toward deterring Russia’s threats against Ukraine.

“If Russia makes a choice to further invade Ukraine, we are jointly ready and all of NATO is ready,” Biden said at a press conference with Scholz to his side after the bilateral meeting. “We’re in agreement that it cannot be business as usual if Russia further invades.”

“Germany’s completely reliable,” Biden added. “Completely, totally thoroughly reliable. I have no doubt about Germany at all.”

Scholz, an advocate of a stronger transatlantic partnership, is facing criticism in capitals across Europe and North America that Germany’s longstanding economic ties with Russia are unworkable as NATO works to deter the Kremlin from an invasion of Ukraine. He tried to dispel that notion Monday.

“We cannot remain silent on that,” Scholz, speaking through a translater, said of Russia’s actions. “We see the number of Russian troops along the Ukrainian border. And that is a serious threat to the European security. And this is why it is important that we act together, that we stand together and that we do what is necessary together.”

Scholz said Biden and he made “very clear” that if there is military aggression against Ukraine it will entail “severe sanctions,” adding that, “There will be a high price for Russia.”

Biden vows to ‘end’ Nord Stream 2 if Russia invades Ukraine
The chancellor is set to also visit Capitol Hill, where he’s certain to face tough questions.

A major geopolitical flashpoint facing Germany is Nord Stream 2, an $11 billion pipeline that would directly run from Russia to Germany, bypassing existing lines in Ukraine for which Russia pays tolls and increasing Europe’s dependence on Moscow for its energy.

Biden reiterated that the US would end the operation of Nord Stream 2, a natural gas pipeline ferrying Russian natural gas to Germany, should Moscow invade Ukraine.

“There will be no longer a Nord Stream 2. We will bring an end to it,” Biden said, though not outlining how the U.S. would make sure it’s not constructed. “I promise you, we will be able to do it.”

Scholz was less direct when asked whether Germany would oppose Nord Stream 2 if Russia invades Ukraine.

“We are acting together,” the chancellor said, vowing to take the “necessary steps” alongside the U.S. and other allies. “We are absolutely united.”

Scholz has drawn criticism for Germany’s refusal to supply lethal weapons to Ukraine, increase its troop presence in Eastern Europe and specify which sanctions it would support against Russia.

“There’s certainly a degree of frustration with Germany in Washington D.C., whether that’s in the administration or beyond, given the lack of leadership or presence that we’ve seen from Germany in the current Ukraine crisis,” said Jörn Fleck, deputy director of the Europe Center at the Atlantic Council, a foreign policy think tank.

Rebuilding a battered relationship

Biden was expected to press Scholz on the pipeline’s future, as well as longstanding U.S. grievances over German defense spending and Berlin’s hesitance to assert itself in European affairs. Yet the president, also a committed internationalist, has worked over the past year to restore a key alliance after years of discord between the two countries.

“Biden came into office wanting to repair the U.S.-German relationship that had been so damaged during the previous four years,” said Rachel Rizzo, a senior fellow at the Atlantic Council’s Europe Center. “Former Chancellor Angela Merkel was the subject of much of Trump’s ire.”

Trump frequently called Germans “freeloaders” for low defense spending and “totally controlled by Russia” over the Nord Stream 2 controversy. He called Merkel “insane” for her embrace of over 1 million Syrian refugees fleeing violence in 2016.

“I think the Biden administration clearly, unlike its predecessor, understands the breadth and depth of our relationship with Germany is far more than (NATO and Nord Stream 2), and there’s no question that Olaf Scholz would agree with that,” said John Emerson, who served as U.S. ambassador to Germany under President Barack Obama from 2013 to 2017.

Scholz, who has been in office for barely less than two months, arrived in Washington this week looking to shore up what is both a geopolitically and emotionally foundational relationship for modern Germany. The two leaders also discussed the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and promoting democracy globally, according to the White House.

While the pipeline is completed and awaiting regulatory approval in Berlin, Biden aides have reiterated the project won’t proceed if Russian President Vladimir Putin attacks Ukraine. The policy is a shift from the fall when the Biden administration waived sanctions on the pipeline.

“This crisis couldn’t have come at a worse time for Scohlz,” said Fleck. Scholz’s government, an unprecedented alliance of three different parties, has sent mixed signals on foreign policy, leading to frustration and confusion, Fleck noted.

Scholz, leader of the center-left Social Democrats, has both said that “everything is on the table” as NATO works to deter Putin and stressed that Nord Stream 2 is a commercial project, albeit one backed by the Russian government.

More: What is NATO? Military alliance in spotlight as Russia tries to forbid Ukraine membership

A pacifist country faces war
Meanwhile, eastern European leaders have unloaded on Scholz for perceived inactivity as other NATO allies marshal troops and send weapons to Ukraine. Poland’s prime minister said Berlin was allowing Putin “to blackmail the whole of Europe” over Nord Stream 2, while Latvia’s defense minister called Germany’s relationship with autocracies like Russia and China “immoral and hypocritical.”

Germany was widely panned for sending 5,000 helmets to Kyiv as leaders there asked for lethal weaponry, something Germany offers only rarely to treaty allies, which Ukraine is not. The critiques, which Scholz will likely also face in Washington from lawmakers on Capitol Hill, cuts against Germany’s pacifist political culture.

“I think (Scholz) sees Germany as a proponent of a diplomatic solution. And that’s the role that he sees both himself and his government playing,” Rizzo said. Germans consistently oppose increased military spending and are skeptical of NATO mobilizing against Russia, according to German pollsters.

“I think Germany has what it takes to be a great power,” Rizzo said. “The problem is it doesn’t want to … And it goes to the heart of German pacifism, of how Germans view themselves both as Europeans and actors on the global stage,” she continued.

While Germany hosts over 30,000 U.S. troops – as well as American nuclear weapons – and sent forces to Afghanistan as part of the U.S. coalition there, it largely sees its role as a peacemaker on the world stage, said Emerson, the former ambassador.

Scholz’s hesitance at more forcefully confronting Russia reflects a particularly German desire to be a mediator and prevent conflict. That stance may no longer be possible if the Kremlin attacks Kyiv.

After his visit with Biden, Scholz will meet with Putin on Feb. 15 in Moscow to press for a diplomatic solution after a series of talks between Ukraine and Russia, moderated by French and German diplomats, made some headway.


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