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OLAF SCHOLZ

German Chancellor Scholz to visit Ukraine and Russia in February

Germany's Chancellor Olaf Scholz will visit Kyiv and Moscow on February 14 and 15 to discuss the crisis on the Ukraine-Russia border, as tensions soar between Russia and the West.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz sits in the chancellory on February 2nd.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz sits in the chancellory on February 2nd. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-Pool | Kay Nietfeld

It will be Scholz’s first visit to both countries since he replaced Angela Merkel as chancellor in December, and comes amid criticism that he has kept a low profile so far in diplomatic efforts to avoid a war in Ukraine.

Scholz will first visit Kyiv before travelling on to Moscow the following day for talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

“In addition to (discussing) bilateral relations, the focus will also be on international issues, including security issues,” Scholz’s spokesman Wolfgang Buechner told reporters.

Scholz will also host talks in Berlin next Thursday with the leaders of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania, to discuss the concerns of the ex-Soviet Baltic states in the Ukraine-Russia crisis.

READ ALSO: ‘Where is Scholz?’ Germany’s new chancellor under fire

Russia has amassed tens of thousands of troops on the Ukrainian border, raising fears of an invasion.

Russia denies it plans to invade but has demanded wide-ranging security guarantees from the West, including that Ukraine never be allowed to join NATO.

Scholz on Wednesday stressed the importance of a “coordinated policy with regard to the EU and NATO” on the crisis.

Asked about a possible war in Europe, he replied: “The situation is very serious, and you can’t overlook the fact that a lot of soldiers and troops have been deployed on the Ukrainian border.”

The chancellor defended Germany’s refusal to send weapons to Ukraine and reiterated that Russia would pay a “very high price” in the event of an invasion.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters that Putin and Scholz will hold “substantial” bilateral talks when they meet face-to-face on February 15.

Scholz and Putin are also set to discuss the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany, among a host of other controversial issues.

Germany has traditionally been seen as more open to dealing with Russia than some other Western countries, but there are some sources of tensions.

On Thursday, Russia said it was closing the Moscow bureau of German broadcaster Deutsche Welle in response to Berlin’s ban on the German-language channel of Russian state TV network RT.

Member comments

  1. I can see it right now. He’s going to get off the plane on the 16th. And declare he has papers in his hand for peace, in our time.

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POLITICS

Can German Chancellor Scholz create a Merkel-like buzz at the G7 in Bavaria?

The last time Germany hosted a G7 summit, then-chancellor Angela Merkel produced a series of viral images with Barack Obama, clinking giant mugs in a traditional Bavarian beer garden and communing against a verdant Alpine backdrop.

Can German Chancellor Scholz create a Merkel-like buzz at the G7 in Bavaria?

Her successor Olaf Scholz, hobbled in domestic opinion polls and of modest global stature, may struggle to match that convivial atmosphere when leaders gather again from Sunday.

The centrist Scholz, 64, assumed the presidency of the Group of Seven rich countries in January, just a month after taking office in Berlin.

Since then his handling of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, soaring inflation and energy supply complications have put his government to the test while sending his approval ratings plunging.

READ ALSO: Opinion – Scholz is already out of step at Germany – it’s time for a change of course

Scholz told parliament on Wednesday he was ready to seize the three days of talks at the Elmau Castle mountain resort – the same remote, picturesque venue Merkel chose in 2015 – to burnish Germany’s global image and the standing of the West.

“In Europe’s biggest security crisis for decades, Germany as the economically strongest and most populous country in the EU is assuming special responsibility – and not just for its own security but also for the security of its allies,” he said.

A series of summits in the coming days must show “that G7, EU and NATO are as united as ever” and that the “democracies of the world are standing together in the fight against (Russian President Vladimir) Putin’s imperialism,” Scholz said.

READ ALSO: Germany tightens border controls ahead of G7 summit

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz arrives at the EU summit in Brussels on June 23rd.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz arrives at the EU summit in Brussels on June 23rd 2022. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/AP | Olivier Matthys

‘Merkel tradition’

Joachim Trebbe, a professor of political communication at Berlin’s Free University, said Scholz had a “huge opportunity” with the G7 to dispel any doubts about his leadership skills or resolve against the Russian president.

“At the start of his term and even when the war began, Scholz was quite reserved – perhaps a little bit in the tradition of Ms Merkel,” a
still-popular conservative the Social Democratic chancellor has sought to emulate, Trebbe said.

She also “tended to manage crises and didn’t pay much attention to informing the media at every step”.

Former US President Barack Obama and ex-German Chancellor Angela Merkel sit during a concert visit in Elmau (Bavaria) in June 2015 as part of the G7 summit.

Former US President Barack Obama and ex-German Chancellor Angela Merkel at a concert visit in Elmau (Bavaria) in June 2015 during the G7 summit. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Karl-Josef Hildenbrand

After accusations of foot-dragging, Scholz’s attempts at a reset were on display during a long-delayed visit to Kyiv last week, joined by the leaders of France, Italy and Romania.

A journalist from the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung travelling with the chancellor noted that he had a tendency to make gaffes under pressure – like “an old tap that either releases ice-cold or boiling water”.

‘Symbols’

His trouble finding the middle ground had led him to exercise too much caution when it came to sending weapons to Ukraine, or too little, as when on a visit to Lithuania this month he significantly overstated German arms deliveries.   

The chancellor, whose sometimes robotic style has earned him the nickname Scholzomat, has also found himself outflanked in his own unwieldy ruling coalition of his Social Democrats (SPD), ecologist Greens and liberal Free Democrats.

A poll this week showed that the Greens – with popular Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock and Economy Minister Robert Habeck, both credited with clearer messaging on Ukraine — were leading the SPD in voter intentions for the first time since July 2021.

Both parties, however, are currently trailing the conservative opposition, which has relentlessly criticised Scholz’s Ukraine and energy policies as too timid.

READ ALSO: Why has Germany been so slow to deliver weapons to Ukraine?

Trebbe said that initiatives at the G7 bearing Scholz’s imprint on issues including future political and economic support for Ukraine, climate
protection and strengthening democracies worldwide were crucial if he hoped to gain political tailwinds from the summit.

But he said the gathering was nearly as much about generating images, such as the instant meme of Merkel, arms outstretched, explaining her world view to a nonchalant Obama, draped in repose on a wooden bench.

“That’s where symbols of unity, common strategy and strong leadership are created,” Trebbe said.

“I’m pretty sure Scholz has a team of professionals ready to take full advantage of that aspect of the summit.”

By Deborah COLE

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