Biden and Scholz offer show of unity between US, Germany amid Russian threats
President Biden sought to project indivisible unity with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in a meeting at the White House on Monday amid concerns that Germany’s pursuit of Russian gas delivery could threaten a coordinated response to deter Moscow’s potential invasion of Ukraine.
“Germany’s completely reliable, completely, totally, thoroughly reliable,” Biden said in a press conference Monday afternoon. “I have no doubt about Germany at all.”
Scholz reinforced solidarity between the two countries, but avoided acknowledging by name the thorniest issue between the two allies, Germany’s commitment to the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that is poised to deliver gas from Russia — but that the U.S. vigorously opposes.
“You can be sure that there won’t be any measures in which we have a differing approach. We will act together jointly,” he said in German, responding to a reporter’s question on if Berlin is committed to canceling the pipeline in the face of a Russian aggression against Ukraine.
He reiterated his message in English, “We will be united, we will act together, and we will take all the necessary steps — and all the necessary steps will be done by all of us together.”
The Biden administration is coordinating furiously with its allies and partners in Europe to try and stave off a Russian invasion of Ukraine, where Russian President Vladimir Putin has amassed more than 100,000 troops close to its neighbor’s border. U.S. officials have warned that an offensive could be launched any day now.
Separately, French President Emmanuel Macron met with Putin on Monday in an effort to diffuse the situation.
Germany has come under scrutiny for its commitment to providing Ukraine with defensive materials to raise the cost on Russia should it invade, with Ukrainian officials pushing back on Berlin’s delivery of helmets and medical equipment while other countries are focusing on lethal military aid.
Germany has also blocked the export of German-origin defensive materials from allied countries to Ukraine. German officials’ inconsistent messaging on the fate of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline — where the German defense minister has suggested the pipeline is not linked to the crisis — has further raised concern that there are gaps between Germany and the U.S. on a joint response to Russia’s provocations.
Scholz, who took over from former German Chancellor Angela Merkel in December, repeatedly emphasized on Monday that Russia would pay a high price for an invasion and that Germany would stand united with the actions of the U.S. and other European partners.
“The key issue for Scholz is going to be to convey with Chancellor Merkel’s departure the German government remains strong even in its coalition status and strongly behind the policies the United States is pushing now to stand up to Putin,” Rose Gottemoeller, former deputy secretary general of NATO, said in an interview before the press conference.
“There are some powerful figures in Germany who are going to be standing for cooperation with Russia no matter what,” she said, referring to Gerhard Schröder, the former chancellor, who recently joined the board of Russian energy giant Gazprom.
The Nord Stream 2 pipeline has long been a thorn in the close U.S. and German relationship. Biden waived sanctions in May on the pipeline’s parent company to avoid a negative impact on German businesses and employees.
The U.S. and Germany issued a joint statement in July addressing the threat posed by Russia’s control over Nord Stream 2. Berlin agreed to impose sanctions on Moscow if it took further aggression against Ukraine or sought to use energy as a weapon against Europe.
Biden insisted on Monday that the pipeline would be halted if Russia invaded Ukraine, but he declined to elaborate as to how that would happen given that it falls under German control.
“There will be, no longer, a Nord Stream 2. We will bring an end to it,” Biden told reporters, adding later: “I promise you we will be able to do that.”
Fears over a Russian invasion of Ukraine and cutting off energy deliveries to Europe in the height of winter has injected increased urgency for U.S. and European officials to find alternative gas supplies to the continent and ease dependence on Russian supplies.
Secretary of State Antony Blinken on Monday held an energy ministerial between the U.S. and European Union, in a previously scheduled summit, but that spoke to the immediacy of the current crisis.
“We’re in discussions with governments and major producers around the world about surging natural gas capacity and the market itself is adjusting. These efforts are aimed at shoring up energy supplies throughout Europe, including Ukraine, who’s energy security is particularly threatened by Russian aggression,” the secretary said during opening remarks of the ministerial.
European Union Foreign Policy Chief Josep Borrell, who participated in the ministerial in Washington, raised concern over Russia’s control over a significant portion of Europe’s energy supply.
“We are in the midst of a strong diplomatic crisis with Russia. Russia, as you know, doesn’t hesitate to use energy supplies to Europe as a weapon, for geopolitical gain in the middle of a surge of energy prices worldwide,” he said.
Outside analysts welcome this commitment but raised concern that solutions are not likely to be found immediately.
“They’re still scrambling in terms of their response to this situation,” Duncan Wood, vice president for strategy and new initiatives at the Wilson Center, said about the remarks by U.S. and European officials at the energy ministerial.
“We see that they’ve been working the diplomatic channels, not just between Europe and the United States, but globally to come up with replacement gas — LNG [liquefied natural gas] — for Europe and that’s being partially successful, and the words we heard from Secretary Blinken about surging production elsewhere, that’s encouraging but it’s far from being a systemic solution to the long term problem.”
Wood said that some of the stumbling blocks to providing alternative gas suppliers is infrastructure, but that such projects could be completed within three or four years time with the right political will — that would allow the U.S. to export gas and the EU to import it.
“This is not exactly a new issue. The fact is that we’ve known about increasing dependence on Russian gas exports for a long, long time, going back at least a decade in my memory,” he said. “Seeing a little bit more detail from both the Europeans and the United States at this point in time about how they intend to deal with this issue in the long term would help to instill confidence.”