In his first visit to the White House, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz tried to dispel any doubts about the unity of the Western allies in the face of the conflict in Ukraine. He assured that they speak “with the same voice”, that they have prepared “a joint reaction” in case Russia decides to invade Ukraine and that they agree on the “very serious consequences” that violating the borders of the former Soviet republic would have for Moscow. . But that unity did not translate into a unified message about the controversial Nord Stream 2, the Russian-German gas pipeline that the Americans wield as the main threat against President Vladimir Putin.
Scholz’s silence about the future of this infrastructure was very revealing. The chancellor remained faithful to his line of not specifying what sanctions he would be willing to impose on Russia, despite the insistence of the journalists present at the joint press conference with the US president, Joe Biden.
The Nord Stream 2 —completed in September, but still without a license to operate due to not complying with European regulatory procedures— has been at the center of controversy for months. Washington has always opposed its construction because it considers that it increases energy dependence on Moscow and leaves Ukraine, a traditional transit country for Russian gas to Europe, in a very vulnerable situation. The German position is very different. Until a few weeks ago, Berlin continued to deny the geostrategic importance of the gas pipeline by describing it as a simple private business project. 55% of the gas consumed by Germany is of Russian origin. Nord Stream 2 would double the capacity of Nord Stream 1, already in operation, to transport it across the Baltic without going through Ukraine.
Biden was very forceful about the future of infrastructure. “There will be no Nord Stream 2″ if Russia invades Ukraine, he said. “We will put an end to it,” he added. Scholz, on the other hand, did not even name the pipeline. And this despite persistent questions from journalists, who wanted to know if the German chancellor had given Biden some kind of guarantee that the infrastructure would not actually obtain operating permits in the event of a Russian attack. Undeterred and with a slight smile on his lips, Scholz limited himself to repeating what he has been saying in recent weeks: “We have made it clear that if Ukraine is attacked, there will be serious consequences for Russia.” “Russia will pay a high price,” he added. “The message is very clear and Russia has also understood it,” he also said.
Scholz made it clear that he does not intend to clarify what Berlin will do with the gas pipeline if Putin fulfills his threats, not even under the pressure of a visit closely watched by Western allies, who in recent weeks have criticized the lack of German leadership in the crisis. and have wondered if he is still a reliable ally. By contrast, Biden’s forcefulness was surprising. A journalist even asked him how he intends to stop Nord Stream 2 when it is Germany that controls it, not the United States. “Don’t worry, we will do it,” the American president replied enigmatically. Next to him, an imperturbable Scholz listened without making a single gesture that would show whether he agrees with Biden or not.
The lack of definition in Berlin was also not cleared up this Tuesday during the meeting that Scholz held with the French president, Emmanuel Macron, and the Pole, Andrzej Duda, on the situation in Ukraine. The three leaders pointed out that their common goal “is to avoid a war in Europe”, in the words of the German, during an appearance without questions late in the afternoon.
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Scholz, Macron and Duda appealed to the “unity” of Europeans to prevent a war and agreed that the situation is very delicate. The three countries they represent hold the rotating presidencies of the EU, in the case of France, of the G-7 (Germany) and of the OSCE (Poland). “The peace and stability of the European continent are our treasure and I consider it our duty to do whatever is necessary to preserve them,” Macron said. The French president promised to “find ways and means to participate in this important and demanding dialogue with Russia.” This dialogue, all three agreed, must be a priority to reduce the risk of an escalation of tension. “It is still possible to avoid a war in Europe,” Duda said.
The meeting of the three leaders is part of the format called the Weimar Triangle, an initiative created in 1991 by Germany, France and Poland to deal with cooperation issues. Of the three countries, the one that usually shows the greatest differences with the others is Poland, which calls for a firmer attitude towards Russia. Faced with France and Germany’s commitment to diplomatic means to resolve the conflict, Poland defends an increase in NATO’s military presence in the region as a deterrent strategy. Warsaw has also been one of the European partners that has put the most pressure on Berlin to stop the construction of Nord Stream 2, which it considers a threat to EU security.
The meeting of the three European leaders comes a day after Scholz’s visit to the US president and Macron’s long meeting with Putin in Moscow. The German chancellor has started an intense diplomatic agenda with which he wants to put Germany back on the international map after a few weeks of low profile. Scholz plans to meet with the three leaders of the Baltic countries this week and next week he will travel to Kiev, first, and then to Moscow to meet with Putin.
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