German Chancellor refuses to meet with Biden to discuss Ukraine - Politics | PoFo

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Telegraph wrote:Olaf Scholz denies 'refusing' to meet with Joe Biden to discuss Ukraine crisis
The alleged refusal comes as top US and Russia diplomats in crunch meeting to avert Ukraine invasion

Berlin has been forced to deny reports that Chancellor Olaf Scholz had snubbed a face-to-face meeting with Joe Biden to discuss the Ukraine crisis, as divisions within Nato widened over how to respond to the threat of a Russian invasion.

Germany’s Der Spiegel reported that Mr Scholz had turned down a short-notice invitation from the White House to fly to Washington last week. Mr Biden was then seeking to smooth over concerns in Berlin about how far to go in opposing a possible war.

Both the White House and a spokesman for the Chancellor said the claim was untrue.

But the report threatened to undermine Western unity as top diplomats from Russia and the United States failed to achieve a breakthrough in emergency talks in Geneva.

Sergei Lavrov, the Russian foreign minister, said a 90-minute consultation with Anthony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, on Friday had been "constructive" and “useful” but had not addressed the demands Moscow had issued.

He said Russia would wait for the United States to produce written answers to its security ultimatums next week before deciding "if we are on the right path."

Mr Blinken described the talks as "frank and substantive".

"We didn't expect any major breakthroughs to happen today, but I believe we are now on a clear path in terms of understanding each other's concerns and each other's positions," he told reporters.

He reiterated warnings that the United States and its allies would respond strongly if Russian troops crossed into Ukraine.

Vladimir Putin has massed tens of thousands of troops near Russia’s border with Ukraine and in neighbouring Belarus, in what the White House says is preparation for an invasion.

He has denied planning a war, but has threatened unspecified ‘military-technical” measures if the West does not deliver on a string of demands, including guarantees that Ukraine will never be allowed to join Nato.

Russia’s foreign minister on Friday also said it wanted all foreign Nato forces to leave Romania and Bulgaria, which joined the alliance in 2014.

Romania neighbours Ukraine. Both countries have Black Sea coastlines that will make them critical to any Nato effort to deter a Russian operation against Ukraine's south.

The US, UK, and European governments have rejected those demands as non-starters, and threatened “severe” economic sanctions, though not direct military action, if an attack goes ahead.

But the on-going diplomatic crisis has laid bare divisions within Nato over how far to go in facing down such an attack.

Germany has refused requests from Ukraine for military assistance and resisted pressure from the United States, UK, and Ukraine to consider cancelling its Nord Stream II pipeline, which will pump gas from Russia, in the event of war.

Ukraine accused it last month of also blocking arms supplies via Nato.

It has meanwhile pushed back on proposals to include suspending Russian from the Swift international payments system in any sanctions package.

Mr Sholz, who faces pressure from a left-wing faction in his Social Democratic Party that is traditionally sympathetic to Russia, reportedly told Mr Biden he had other commitments when the White House invited him to discuss the crisis.

The White House instead sent Mr Blinken to Berlin on Thursday to tell Mr Scholz that he must back serious sanctions if he continues to block arms deliveries to Ukraine, according to Der Spiegel.

Earlier William Burns, the director of the CIA, had flown to Berlin to show Mr Sholz intelligence about the Russian military build up.

Emmanuel Macron, the president of France, was this week accused of blind-siding allies and sabotaging efforts to contain the crisis when he told the European parliament that the EU should launch its own security dialogue with Russia.

Le Monde cited French government sources on Friday saying Paris and Berlin were "perplexed" about the "alarmist" tone coming from Washington and London about troop deployments.

"We can see the same number of trucks, tanks, personnel. We have observed the same movements but we cannot deduce from all this that invasion is imminent," a source told Le Monde, asking whether "perhaps the British and Americans have intelligence" permitting them to come to this conclusion.

The source said France is willing to help but "we don't know what the Americans want to do militarily or otherwise" in the event of war.

Mr Biden admitted on Wednesday that Western countries could be divided over how to respond if Vladimir Putin launches a "minor incursion" rather than a full invasion.

Volodymyr Zelensky, the president of Ukraine, hit back at the remarks, saying there were “no minor incursions” into a sovereign country.

Britain began airlifting anti-tank weapons to Ukraine earlier this week.

The Czech Republic and the Baltic States have said they will supply weapons to Ukraine including artillery rounds.

Wokpe Hoekstra, the Dutch foreign minister, said on Friday that his government would “look sympathetically” at any new Ukrainian requests from weapons via Nato.

The Netherlands previously joined Germany in blocking a request in December. Mr Hoekstra said the context had changed since then.

The Telegraph wrote:Olaf Scholz remains deliberately ambiguous on Russia — a trick he learnt from Angela Merkel
With hard-left factions in his own party calling for closer ties with Moscow, the Chancellor must maintain a delicate balancing act

Olaf Scholz remains deliberately ambiguous on Russia - a trick he learned from Angela Merkel

With hard-left factions in his own party calling for closer ties with Moscow, the Chancellor must maintain a delicate balancing act

Olaf Scholz’s complex relationship with Moscow comes down to two things: Russian gas and coalition politics.

While Germany insists he did not snub Joe Biden’s invitation to talk in person about the Ukraine crisis, there is no doubt that he and the US leader have radically different approaches.

Mr Scholz is trying to hold together a coalition government that is deeply divided over how to deal with the Kremlin.

What makes life particularly difficult for the German chancellor is that a powerful group within his own Social Democrat party (SPD) is actually pro-Russian.

Mr Scholz has only just wrestled control of the party back from a hard-Left Momentum-style faction that wants closer relations with Russia.

Rolf Mützenich, the party’s parliamentary leader, has called for a “European peace order including Russia” that would “overcome military alliances”.

There is no suggestion Mr Scholz shares those views, but the Leftists still wield considerable power within the party and could make his life difficult if they oppose his government in parliament.

Mr Scholz’s coalition allies, the Greens and the centre-Right Free Democrats (FDP), want Germany to take a tougher line on Russia.

But the Greens oppose weapons exports to conflict zones on ideological grounds, and are refusing to budge over arming Ukraine.

On top of that, Mr Scholz is nervous of any move that could see the Russian gas supply to Germany cut off in the midst of winter.

So far Mr Scholz appears to be trying to get round the problems by saying nothing and leaving his own position ambiguous — which would explain his reported reluctance to meet Mr Biden.

It’s a ploy he learnt from Angela Merkel. But Mrs Merkel knew exactly how far she could afford to take it, and when to take a stand.

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