- The Washington Times
Monday, February 7, 2022

President Biden, with the new German chancellor at his side, forcefully vowed Monday that a Russia-to-Germany gas pipeline would never start operations if the Kremlin invades neighboring Ukraine.

Olaf Scholz, making his first trip as chancellor to Washington since taking office in early December, in turn said Berlin stands “united” with its NATO allies in opposing Russian aggression in Ukraine.

Germany has been criticized for its reluctance to speak out against Moscow or approve critical military equipment for Kyiv.

Mr. Scholz again stopped short of an ironclad commitment in case of war to abandon the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project, which has become a symbol of the West’s readiness to stand up to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“There is a military threat against Ukraine. We cannot remain silent on that. We see a number of troops along the Ukrainian border that is a serious threat to European security, and this is why it is important that we act together, stand together, and do what is necessary together,” Mr. Scholz said at a joint press conference alongside Mr. Biden.

Mr. Biden was far more emphatic that a Russian military move would kill the just-completed pipeline project without detailing how that would happen. U.S. officials have hinted that Germany, a major importer of Russian energy, has privately agreed to quash the project if Russia invades but is hoping a diplomatic deal on Ukraine will keep it alive.

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

When pressed on how, Mr. Biden said, “I promise you, we’ll be able to do it.”

SEE ALSO: Diplomatic shuttle: Macron in Kyiv after Putin talks

The meeting was among several high-level talks among world leaders who are scrambling to stop a Russian attack on its neighbor. French President Emmanuel Macron traveled to Moscow and met with Mr. Putin on Monday.

Speaking alongside Mr. Putin at the start of the meeting, Mr. Macron said dialogue with Russia was necessary to “build real security and stability.”

“I believe that our continent is today in an eminently critical situation, which requires us all to be extremely responsible,” he said.

Russia has denied that it intends to attack Ukraine, even as it demands that NATO forever bar Ukraine as a member and pull back forces broadly across Eastern Europe. Pentagon officials say the buildup of Russian troops along Ukraine‘s border is the largest since the Cold War. They estimate that the Russian military has massed 70% of the forces it would need for a full-scale invasion.

Mr. Biden said Russia could pursue a diplomatic off-ramp, but he did not respond to a question on how that could be accomplished.

In Moscow, Mr. Putin harshly criticized Kyiv and NATO after his meeting with Mr. Macron but suggested that the diplomatic window is wider than some have thought.

“A number of his proposals and ideas, about which it is too early to speak, I consider quite possible in order to lay a foundation for our further steps,” Mr. Putin said of Mr. Macron.

NATO allies have called for severe economic sanctions against Russia, but Germany has been reluctant to sign on. Berlin is fearful that forceful action could jeopardize the $11 billion Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which bypasses lucrative transit routes through Ukraine and brings Russian natural gas directly to German markets.

Congressional Republicans have pressed Mr. Biden to include Nord Stream 2 in a package of sanctions imposed against Russia. They say it would get Germany to speak out more forcefully on the Ukraine crisis.

Coordinating the message

The trip to Washington appeared designed to counter any notion that Berlin was not on the same page as its NATO allies when confronting Russia on Ukraine. The mild-spoken Mr. Scholz — in Germany, he has been dubbed the “Scholzomat” for his what one critic called his “mechanical, austere and laconic” speaking style — made some of his strongest comments yet on the crisis. He warned that Moscow will pay a “high price” if it invades Russia.

“We’re one voice and do things together, and we made it very clear if there was military aggression against Ukraine, this will entail severe consequences that we agreed upon together,” Mr. Scholz said. “What is important is that we also intensively worked on preparing possible sanctions together. We don’t want to start once there is military aggression against Ukraine.”

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have slammed what they say is Germany’s soft stance toward Russia.

Sen. Rob Portman, Ohio Republican, criticized Germany last month for not allowing flights carrying military aid for Ukraine to fly through its airspace. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Democrat, said the Germans are “missing in action” on Ukraine.

The German ambassador in Washington last week warned Berlin that many in the U.S. view Germany as an “unreliable partner.”

On Monday, Mr. Biden vouched for Mr. Scholz. He insisted the chancellor was working in a “united effort” to scale back tensions with Russia.

“There’s no need to win back trust,” Mr. Biden said. “He has the complete trust of the United States.”

Still, the situation represents a bit of an about-face for Germany, which has been muted over Russian aggression in Ukraine. Berlin has balked at approving offensive weapons shipments to Kyiv.

Mr. Scholz again refused to make any binding promises on whether Germany would permanently halt operations on Nord Stream 2 as part of Western sanctions against Russia.

The Trump administration imposed sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 development, but Mr. Biden waived them, effectively allowing the final construction work to move forward.

At the time, Republican lawmakers accused Mr. Biden of strengthening Russia‘s position in Europe and giving it the ability to weaponize energy. Russia provides about one-third of the natural gas used in Europe.

• Dave Boyer can be reached at dboyer@washingtontimes.com.

• Jeff Mordock can be reached at jmordock@washingtontimes.com.

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