Scholz moves closer to US on Ukraine, stays silent on Russian gas pipeline

By Lucia Leal

Washington, Feb 7 (EFE).- German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Monday played a delicate balancing game in aligning his country’s stance with that of the United States regarding Ukraine albeit without making a clear pronouncement on the future of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline through which Russia ships that fuel to Germany.

On his first visit to the White House since he came to power last December, Scholz agreed with US President Joe Biden on a “strong package” of sanctions that both countries will impose on Russia if it attacks Ukraine, but he refused to publicly put all his cards on the table.

“We’re absolutely united and … we will not be taking different steps. And they will be very, very hard (for) Russia,” said Scholz at a press conference with Biden.

That was the most that the German leader would say in response to the many questions about the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which has not yet begun carrying gas but through which the Russian energy product would cross the Baltic Sea directly to Western Europe, bypassing Ukraine, through which Moscow had shipped its gas westward in the pst.

Scholz has resisted threatening Moscow with the definite cancellation of the gas pipeline, which is controlled by Russian energy giant Gazprom, and he also did not do that at the White House, despite the criticism he has received in the US for not clearly delineating Berlin’s position on the matter.

“Part of this process is the fact that we will not outline in public all (we could do),” emphasized Scholz, who is scheduled to visit Moscow next week.

What the chancellor did do was to leave it to Biden to issue that warning, without contradicting him or saying anything further about it.

“If Russia invades, that means tanks and troops crossing the border of Ukraine again, then there will be no longer a Nord Stream 2,” Biden promised. “We will bring an end to it.”

The US has harshly criticized the pipeline, arguing that it could hurt Ukraine by permitting Russia to jettison the transit route for its gas that passes through Ukrainian territory, and for which Ukraine charges shipment fees, but Biden last year decided to exempt the firm building the pipeline from sanctions.

However, the lack of clarity from Scholz has irritated many in Washington to the point that the German ambassador to the US, Emily Haber, warned Berlin last week that many in the US see Germany as an “unreliable partner,” according to The New York Times.

Biden wanted to put an end to that impression during his press conference with Scholz, insisting that there are no doubts about the strength of the bilateral alliance.

“There’s no need to win back trust,” Biden said, adding, “(Germany) has the complete trust of the United States. Germany is one of our most important allies in the world. There is no doubt about Germany’s partnership with the United States. None.”

Shortly before that, however, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters that Germany had taken “very few credible steps to meet” its NATO spending and force upgrade obligations, adding that there is “no doubt” that Berlin could do more in that regard.

Scholz tried to calm the criticism by confirming that the European countries cannot “remain silent about the number of Russian troops on the border” with Ukraine, adding that it is important that all the allies within NATO say “the same things (and speak) with the same voice.”

Biden agreed that things cannot remain the same if Russia invades Ukraine, and he confirmed that he had agreed with Scholz on a “strong package” of sanctions to impose quick and serious consequences on Moscow if that occurs.

He said that if the Kremlin invades Ukraine, the US and its allies, as well as NATO, are jointly prepared to punish Russia economically, albeit not militarily.

The US leader also advised the approximately 30,000 US citizens living in Ukraine to leave that country, although he acknowledged that it is still not known whether Russian President Vladimir Putin has made a decision to invade.

Moscow insists that it does not want war with Kiev and that it is not threatening Ukraine, while Washington and its European allies say that the 100,000 or more Russian troops deployed near the border with Ukraine could move into the neighboring country “at any time” and potentially take Kiev within “two days.”

Biden also noted that the US is in contact with other big producers of natural gas around the world with the aim of helping the European Union find alternative sources to the Russian supply of gas, which is mainly used for heating and cooking during the winter months.

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