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Olaf Scholz pipes up in Moscow

Olaf Scholz pipes up in Moscow

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Germany’s new chancellor was initially criticised for his slow and awkward response to the Ukraine crisis, but he has now met Vladimir Putin. What does it tell us about his policy towards Russia?


Transcript

Today, Olaf Scholz, his meeting with Vladimir Putin and what it tells us about Germany’s relationship with Russia under his leadership.

*** 

After arriving in Moscow, Germany’s new Chancellor, Olaf Scholz, first went to lay flowers at a World War Two Memorial.


It was perhaps a little ominous, because Olaf Scholz’s main reason for visiting the Russian capital was to speak to President Vladimir Putin on a high stakes mission: to try to stop him invading Ukraine.

Activists laid down on motorways and busy roads and glued themselves to the ground when police arrived to make it harder for them to be removed. And, unsurprisingly, things quickly got nasty.

“Scholz has been facing pressure to take a tougher stance on Russia with critics accusing Germany of being out of step with its allies in tackling the crisis.”

DW News

His visit to Moscow followed a meeting with Ukraine’s president on Monday in Kyiv where Olaf Scholz vowed that Berlin and Western allies would “maintain support” for Ukraine’s security and independence. 

That was in stark contrast to last week, when Ukraine’s president cancelled a meeting with Germany’s foreign minister.

Why? In alleged outrage over Berlin’s position on the crisis. Because up until now, Olaf Scholz has been pretty slow to enter the diplomatic arena. 

When the Ukraine crisis began, he kept a low profile.

And now, he’s playing catch up. 

So what do Olaf Scholz’s diplomatic efforts tell us about the sort of world leader he will be?

***

“Olaf Scholz of Germany’s centre left Social Democrats is about to become the country’s ninth post-war federal chancellor…”

BBC News

Just over two months ago, Olaf Scholz became chancellor of Germany, replacing Angela Merkel who’d held the position for 16 years. 

Olaf Scholz was elected, partly, because his calm manner and understated style reminded voters of her.

But what Germany’s Western allies are wondering is whether he shares her attitude towards Russia? One dictated by a reliance on Russian gas.

“If Russia invades, that means tanks or troops crossing the border of Ukraine again, then there will be, there will be no longer a Nord Stream Two, we will bring an end to it.”

President Joe Biden

That was US president Joe Biden warning last week that a Russian invasion would spell the end of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which stretches 764 miles from Russia to Germany under the Baltic Sea.

But standing next to him, Olaf Scholz was reluctant to make the same assertion. 

That’s because Nord Stream 2 would double Russia’s gas exports to Germany. Gas that his country needs. 

And it’s been pretty controversial.

“Nord Stream 2 was completed last year but is awaiting certification from Germany, a process that has been temporarily halted over Europe’s fair competition rules. The European Commission opposes the Nord Stream 2, concerned that it further increases energy reliance on Russia which already supplies 40 per cent of the EU’s natural gas.” 

France 24

Olaf Scholz’s failure to back Joe Biden led to heavy criticism. 

Here’s Boris Johnson speaking on Monday…

“What I think all European countries need to do now is get Nord Stream out of the bloodstream, get that… yank out that hypodermic drip feed of Russian hydrocarbons that is keeping so many European economies going…

Boris Johnson

So, is the new chancellor willing to break from his predecessor on Russia?

***

On Tuesday, Olaf Scholz sat at the same long table, in the same grand room in the Kremlin, that  his ally Emmanuel Macron had a week earlier.  

But this time, the meeting was in German…

[Clip of Olaf Scholz and Vladimir Putin speaking in German]

Both Vladimir Putin and Olaf Scholz commented on the close business ties between their two countries. After all, Germany is Russia’s second-biggest trade partner after China. 

The pair agreed that “open dialogue” was essential for peace and security in Europe with Vladimir Putin admitting, “We do not want war in Europe.” And while the meeting took place, Russia claimed it was pulling back some of its troops from the Ukrainian border. 

The situation is clearly still fragile, but UK and US leaders have said not all hope is lost for a diplomatic solution, one that Germany’s Olaf Scholz can now say he’s played a part in.

Today’s story was written and produced by Imy Harper.


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