German leader’s stance on Russia looms over 1st visit to US

Feb 6, 2022, 12:18 AM | Updated: Feb 7, 2022, 1:06 am

BERLIN (AP) — German Chancellor Olaf Scholz set off Sunday for Washington seeking to reassure Americans that his country stands alongside the United States and other NATO partners in opposing any Russian aggression against Ukraine.

Scholz has said that Moscow would pay a “high price” in the event of an attack, but his government’s refusal to supply lethal weapons to Ukraine, bolster Germany’s troop presence in Eastern Europe or spell out which sanctions it would support against Russia has drawn criticism abroad and at home.

“The Germans are right now missing in action. They are doing far less than they need to do,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Democrat and member of the Armed Services Committee, recently told an audience of Ukrainian Americans in his state, Connecticut.

This sentiment was echoed by Republican Sen. Rob Portman, who questioned why Berlin hadn’t yet approved a request to let NATO member Estonia pass over old German howitzers to Ukraine. “That makes no sense to me, and I’ve made that very clear in conversations with the Germans and others,” Portman told NBC.

Ahead of his trip, Scholz defended Germany’s position not to supply Kyiv with lethal weapons, but insisted that his country is doing its bit by providing significant economic support to Ukraine.

Asked about the future of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that seeks to bring Russian natural gas to Germany under the Baltic Sea, bypassing Ukraine, Scholz refused to make any explicit commitments.

“Nothing is ruled out,” he told German public broadcaster ARD.

Germany has come under criticism over its heavy reliance on Russian energy supplies and the gas pipeline has long been opposed by the United States. But it is strongly supported by some in Scholz’s center-left Social Democratic Party, including former chancellor Gerhard Schroeder.

The 77-year-old Schroeder is close to Russian President Vladimir Putin and heads the shareholders’ committee of Nord Stream AG and the board of directors of Nord Stream 2.

In a move likely to embarrass Scholz ahead of his first official trip to Washington, the Russian state-owned gas company Gazprom announced Friday that Schroeder — who has accused Ukraine of “saber-rattling” in its standoff with Russia — has been nominated to join its board of directors.

Scholz’s spokesman declined repeated requests for comment on Schroeder’s ties to Putin.

Despite Germany’s reluctance to officially put the new pipeline — which has yet to receive an operating permit — on the negotiating table with Russia, the United States has made clear that even without Berlin’s agreement the project is dead should Moscow launch an attack.

“One way or the other, if Russia invades Ukraine, Nord Stream 2 will not move forward,” U.S. national security adviser Jake Sullivan told “Fox News Sunday.”

Scholz will meet President Joe Biden and members of Congress on Monday to try to smooth out differences. The 63-year-old’s performance in Washington could have broad implications for U.S.-German relations and for Scholz’s standing at home.

While former President Donald Trump frequently slammed Germany, accusing it of not pulling its weight internationally, his successor has sought to rebuild relations with Berlin.

“Biden has taken some real risks, including on the the issue of the German-Russian gas pipeline,” said Jeff Rathke, president of the American Institute for Contemporary German Studies.

“(Scholz’s) visit to Washington is an opportunity for him to try to turn that page,” said Rathke.

Having succeeded long-time German leader Angela Merkel last year, Scholz also needs to appease doubters at home who accuse him of pulling a diplomatic vanishing act compared to his European counterparts. With the phrase “Where is Scholz?” trending on social media last week, German conservative opposition leader Friedrich Merz called for “clear words” from the government on the Ukraine crisis.

“We must rule nothing out as a reaction to a further military escalation,” the leader of Merkel’s center-right bloc said, though he too has been skeptical about sending possible German arms shipments to Ukraine.

Others in Scholz’s three-party governing coalition have struck a harsher tone toward Russia.

Speaking alongside her Russian counterpart in Moscow last month, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock of the Green Party branded Russia’s troop deployment at the border with Ukraine a “threat.” She plans to visit Ukraine on Monday and Tuesday and inspect the front line between Ukrainian troops and areas held by Russian-based separatists in the east.

Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, a member of the Free Democrats who chairs Germany’s parliamentary defense committee, said Schroeder’s work for Moscow “harms the country he should serve” and suggested removing the privileges he enjoys since leaving office.

Whatever Germany does to support Ukraine will likely come at a cost.

Berlin’s approval of 5,000 helmets for Ukrainian troops last week drew widespread mockery. Kyiv has since asked Germany for more military hardware, including medium-range and portable anti-aircraft missile systems, as well as ammunition.

Meanwhile, some German officials worry that any mention of further sanctions against Russia, let alone a full-blown conflict, could drive up Europe’s already high gas prices. Constanze Stelzenmueller, a specialist on trans-Atlantic relations at the Brookings Institution, noted that Europe will bear the brunt of blowback costs from economic sanctions against Russia.

“You have populists in Europe always looking for ways to exploit political differences and tensions,” she said. “That’s what’s at stake here.”

In an uncharacteristic outburst at the start of the coronavirus pandemic, Scholz — who was then Germany’s finance minister — announced that he would be pulling out a figurative “bazooka” to help businesses cope with the crisis by setting aside more than 1 trillion euros ($1.1 trillion) in state aid.

Scholz may need to make a similarly expansive gesture to ease concerns in Washington and beyond, said Rathke.

“Germany is going to have to show that it is not only committed to the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine, but that it’s putting real resources behind it now, not just pointing to what it’s done in the past,” he said.

___

Geir Moulson in Berlin and Ellen Knickmeyer and Nathan Ellgren in Washington contributed to this report.

___

Follow Frank Jordans on Twitter at http://twitter.com/wirereporter

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

AP

Associated Press

French MPs want abortion rights inscribed in constitution

PARIS (AP) — A group of lawmakers belonging to French President Emmanuel Macron’s party will propose a bill to inscribe abortion rights into the country’s constitution, according to the statement by two members of parliament on Saturday. The move comes after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a 50-year-old ruling and stripped women’s constitutional protections for […]
4 hours ago
A strike sign is displayed by an entrance at Waterloo train station, in London, during a railway wo...
Associated Press

Here we go again: Strike snarls UK trains for a third day

LONDON (AP) — Train stations were all but deserted across Britain on Saturday, as the third day of a national strike snarled the weekend plans of millions. Train companies said only a fifth of passenger services would run, as about 40,000 cleaners, signalers, maintenance workers and station staff walked off the job in Britain’s biggest […]
4 hours ago
Local resident Tetyana points at her house heavily damaged by the Russian shelling in Bakhmut, Done...
Associated Press

Russia pushes to block 2nd city in eastern Ukraine

KYIV, Ukraine (AP) — Russian forces are trying to block a city in eastern Ukraine, the region’s governor said Saturday, after their relentless assault on a nearby city forced Ukrainian troops to begin withdrawal after weeks of intense fighting. Russia also launched missile attacks on areas far from the heart of the eastern battles. Serhiy […]
4 hours ago
Bangladesh's longest bridge, which took eight years to build amid setbacks involving political conf...
Associated Press

Bangladesh marks opening of country’s longest bridge

DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Saturday celebrated the opening of the country’s longest bridge, which took eight years to build amid setbacks involving political conflict and corruption allegations. The 6.51-kilometer (4.04-mile) bridge spanning the Padma River cost an estimated $3.6 billion and was paid for with domestic funds after the […]
4 hours ago
Police prepare their equipment and gather prior to a demonstration ahead of the G7 summit in Munich...
Associated Press

Protests expected as G-7 leaders set to arrive in Germany

MUNICH (AP) — Tens of thousands of protesters are expected to gather in Munich on Saturday as the Group of Seven leading economic powers hold their annual gathering in the Bavarian Alps in Germany, which holds the G-7´s rotating presidency this year. Police were expecting at least 20,000 protesters in the Bavarian city, the German […]
4 hours ago
A model displays the collection by Russian designer Slava Zaitsev during the opening of the Fashion...
Associated Press

AP PHOTOS: Moscow Fashion Week sprawls across the capital

MOSCOW (AP) — Chic and adventurous models and couturiers have been spread all over the Russian capital for Moscow Fashion Week, flaunting their designs in venues ranging from a sprawling Stalin-era propaganda exposition to a large park near the Kremlin admired for its innovative features. More than 100 shows are being held during the week […]
4 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

(Courtesy Condor)...
Condor Airlines

Condor Airlines shows passion for destinations from Sky Harbor with new-look aircraft

Condor Airlines brings passion to each flight and connects people to their dream destinations throughout the world.
...
Arizona Division of Problem Gambling

Arizona Division of Problem Gambling provides exclusion solution for young sports bettors

Sports betting in Arizona opened a new world to young adults, one where putting down money on games was as easy as sending a text message.
...
Carla Berg, MHS, Deputy Director, Public Health Services, Arizona Department of Health Services

ADHS mobile program brings COVID-19 vaccines and boosters to Arizonans

The Arizona Department of Health Services and partner agencies are providing even more widespread availability by making COVID-19 vaccines available in neighborhoods through trusted community partners.
German leader’s stance on Russia looms over 1st visit to US