by Katja Hoyer
Wednesday, 16
February 2022
Explainer
07:30

Finally, Olaf Scholz shows some backbone with Russia

The German Chancellor's summit with Vladimir Putin was his most assured yet
by Katja Hoyer
Credit: Getty

“As for the pipeline, everyone knows what the situation is,” said German chancellor Olaf Scholz in his joint press conference with Russian president Vladimir Putin yesterday afternoon. In contrast to his visibly uncomfortable appearance in Washington, the trip to Moscow showcased a more assertive Scholz. At times the usually reserved chancellor even became a little emotional, telling his Russian counterpart that it was “our damn duty” to prevent war. He even mentioned Nord Stream 2 once — and got away with it.

It certainly looked as if Russia was opening the doors to a diplomatic solution. Their announcement of some troop withdrawals from the Ukrainian border was welcomed by Scholz as a “good sign,” but he also expressed hope that ‘more will follow’. NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg also expressed “cautious optimism”.


Like what you’re reading? Get the free UnHerd daily email

Already registered? Sign in


In contrast to his hesitancy in Washington, Scholz in Moscow was much clearer and began to draw at least the contours of a line in the sand. He stated that he could not see “any reasonable justification” for the Russian troop build-up and that he considered the integrity of the borders of Ukraine “inviolable”. An invasion would have “grave political, economic and geo-strategic consequences for Russia”. This was the closest the chancellor had yet come to an outright threat to Moscow.

Scholz also attempted to lay out a diplomatic path out of the crisis. He insisted that both Russia and Ukraine must stick to the so-called Minsk accords which were brokered by Germany and France after the annexation of Crimea in 2014 and 2015. The 13 points of Misk II are particularly contentious as they demand devolution of power to (and separate elections in) the contested regions of Donetsk and Luhansk. In addition, the accords calls for an amnesty for everyone involved in the bloody conflict there, including Russian-backed rebels and mercenaries.

The required changes to the Ukrainian constitution have not happened yet as Kyiv fears the regions would effectively become a Trojan horse for Russian influence within Ukraine. Scholz attempted to assure Putin that he would press Ukraine on this, but that all sides would have to stick to it.

Scholz also attempted to assure Putin regarding Ukrainian NATO membership. But he could not help adding a little sting in the tail when he said that membership was not on the cards within both of their times in office, “although I don’t know how long the president intends to stay in office. I have a feeling for a little while yet but certainly not forever.”

If Scholz was more assertive, Putin returned the fire. The Russian president wants nothing less than written confirmation that Ukraine will never join NATO, control over arms stationed near its borders and the reduction of NATO’s military infrastructure to 1997 levels. Russia’s parliament, the Duma, has also passed a resolution for Putin to recognise Donetsk and Luhansk as independent republics.

He also called the West’s answers to Russian proposals “unacceptable” and said that NATO caused the last European war themselves with “bombs on Belgrade”. When Scholz retorted that the 1999 bombings of Yugoslavia had prevented genocide, Putin shot back, “What is happening in the Donbas is genocide.”

Domestic and foreign pressure have finally woken Scholz from his political slumber. His performance in Moscow yesterday was more sure-footed than anything we have seen from him so far. One can assume that direct and extensive talks with Putin have also opened his eyes to the fact that it will take more than good intentions to de-escalate the situation in Ukraine.

Scholz says that “the potential for diplomacy is far from exhausted”, but it remains to be seen if he is willing to tap into the full political arsenal available to a country better placed than most to tighten the screws on Moscow.

Join the discussion


To join the discussion, get the free daily email and read more articles like this, sign up.

It's simple, quick and free.

Sign me up
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
12 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Justin Clark
Justin Clark
9 months ago

Thanks. Ok I’ll start this off, is this – https://www.spiegel.de/international/world/open-letter-it-s-time-to-invite-russia-to-join-nato-a-682287.html – a good idea or a crazy one?

John Hicks
John Hicks
9 months ago
Reply to  Justin Clark

Maybe just a “half-way house” idea. NATO is for “peace and collective security of members…..and dialogue between them.” Without an identifiable enemy to peace, NATO loses purpose. Joining NATO as a Russian road into the EU? Maybe that would focus on the real villains to peace and harmony: – authoritarian dictatorships and terrorists with no reverence for life. First problem with “good idea”; – current “crazy” authoritarian leadership.

Patrick Fox
Patrick Fox
9 months ago
Reply to  John Hicks

The problem with Russia joining NATO is the EU and Macron’s cunning plans for an EU army and defence policy. The latter become obsolete as soon as Russia joins NATO or even enters into tight cooperation agreement with NATO. And Brussels does not like this scenario as it does not fit its objectives of ever closer integration and relegation of States and their sovereignty to history. The EU needs to create an “enemy” even imaginary to justify its survival ( or should I say attempts to play a role ) on the international geopolitical plane as it is a dwarf. With Russia no longer the enemy only China would be left but this would be a very different ball game and intolerable gamble. It is worth revisiting Carl Schmitt’s writings.

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
9 months ago
Reply to  Patrick Fox

I thought that the EU had created an “enemy”- the UK

Patrick Fox
Patrick Fox
9 months ago
Reply to  Doug Pingel

No the UK is not an enemy just a scapegoat for the EU

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
9 months ago
Reply to  Justin Clark

Scrap NATO.

Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
9 months ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

For What? The EU Army? Is it time for a EU Nuclear force with 800 nuk armed bombs and missiles – maybe 6 aircraft carrier task forces, nuke capable Submarine fleet, 2,000 heavy battle Tanks 180 Ships, 400 top line fighters, 1000 other military aircraft, and 2 million people in Uniform?

Sounds good – lets put some EU department in charge of it…… and fund it by borrowing $6 Trillion off the international Bond Market…..

Colin Elliott
Colin Elliott
9 months ago
Reply to  Justin Clark

It’s crazy. Russia is able to defend itself. Europe isn’t able to defend itself, despite being easily capable of doing so, because it is unable to agree on defence, and because it generally finds it preferable to spend money on welfare, inclusivity, diversity etc, leaving the USA to bear the burden.
NATO was formed because of a perceived threat, became redundant and withered, but may now perhaps be reinvigorated, because it has been forced to recognise that the threat has returned.
Friendly relations in the form of exchange of representatives, and maybe even military co-operation, is a nice idea, but founders because of the behaviour of the Russian government, which has no qualms about sending assassins, bombing Syrian hospitals, tolerating or sponsoring internet crime, and steadily destroying what was once a developing democracy. One can only hope that in time, things improve.

Last edited 9 months ago by Colin Elliott
Galeti Tavas
Galeti Tavas
9 months ago
Reply to  Justin Clark

Crazy one. May as well say, ‘How about NATO handing its self over to Russia?

And why not asking China and India to join too, and Brazil, they are pretty powerful in their way – and maybe Japan?

NATO would have a good military if they all joined – no one would dare attack NATO then.

Doug Pingel
Doug Pingel
9 months ago
Reply to  Galeti Tavas

Wouldn’t that be called the United Nations – we could have the headquarters in New York on Mondays, Moscow on Wednesdays and Peking on Fridays. If NY too hot in Summer then Brussels and if Moscow too cold in Winter then Bombay. That’l keep the buggers (sorry, politicians) too busy to cause any problems for the rest of us who could then get on with getting-things-done.

Ian Stewart
Ian Stewart
9 months ago
Reply to  Justin Clark

Nah, including Russia and other ideologically crazy countries in any global body has wrecked these global bodies – WHO, UN, UNESCO.

Sean Meister
Sean Meister
9 months ago

“Backbone” being a stooge for the US regime of course. Germany should be in charge of its own destiny rather than slavishly serve their unfeeling American masters. Germany’s future lies East, not West.

Last edited 9 months ago by Sean Meister