"Sanctions brake" wants peace: Olaf Scholz will give all the best to agree with Vladimir Putin?
The gas issue could be the end of Chancellor Scholz's barely-begun career.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz arrived in Moscow to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He has already held consultations with the presidents of the United States and France, other European leaders. He also visited Kiev, where he said that the question of Ukraine's membership in any alliances is practically not worth it, but Germany is on the side of Ukraine, the correspondent of The Moscow Post reports.
Moscow and Berlin understand better than others what they can lose if the "Ukrainian mine" with the American detonator cannot be deactivated. Each side strives to find a solution, but each has its own, dictated by national interests, rooted in historical experience and connections. In Russia, in the case of Ukraine, these ties are also related. Germany is driven by political and commercial interests.
It will not be easy for Olaf Scholz to sit between chairs placed by domestic political competitors and the United States. It is impossible to predict how what he will say in Moscow will be appreciated in the coalition government, in Paris and London, the European Union and NATO.
The intrigue is to prove to the Allies that Berlin remains the locomotive of European politics in the Russian direction, rightfully claims special relations with Moscow, defends its vital interests and German energy security, but at the same time remains faithful to the collective West and "democratic values."
Germany, as a key country of NATO and the European Union, ranks first in the list of European subordinates of the United States. Berlin built a special relationship with Kiev and was the initiator of the Euro-turn of Ukraine. German Foreign Minister, now President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, guarantor of the agreement with Viktor Yanukovych, indifferently watched the coup in Kiev in 2014, but now holds Russia fully responsible.
For Moscow, the visit of the federal chancellor is also important, especially in the conditions of the Ukrainian crisis and uncertainty with security guarantees. The parties plan to discuss these guarantees, touch on the topic of de-escalation, the problems of the Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline, bilateral relations, including the suspended St. Petersburg Dialogue forum. The forum was created in 2001 by former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder and Russian President Vladimir Putin.
And I will ask you Scholz to stay
The background for Olaf Scholz's visit to Kiev and Moscow cannot be called favorable. The relevant committee of the State Duma on CIS affairs supported two options for contacting the President of the Russian Federation to recognize the Donetsk and Lugansk people's republics.
After negotiations with a high guest, Vladimir Zelensky said that he signed a decree on the Day of Unity in the country on February 16. He said that Ukraine was "frightened by the great war" and was set a date for a military invasion "not for the first time." He stressed that now the Ukrainian state is striving for peace more than ever, wants to solve all issues exclusively through negotiations.
Meanwhile, the Minister of Defense of Ukraine Alexei Reznikov in a telephone conversation with his Belarusian counterpart Viktor Khrenin agreed "in order to strengthen mutual trust" on a mutual visit by the military attachés of the two countries to the exercises "Blizzard - 2022" and "Union Determination - 2022," which are held in Ukraine and Belarus, respectively. What is this, an instinct for self-preservation or a sign of late epiphany?
Indeed, in the days before the visits of Olaf Scholz to Kiev and Moscow, the Americans created an information background provocative in form and prewar in essence. More than forty countries evacuate employees of their diplomatic missions from Kiev. The United States, Britain and Canada export not only diplomats and their families, but also military advisers and instructors. The OSCE mission also left Donetsk, confirming the words of Vladimir Putin at the Munich conference that the organization was degraded under the influence of NATO.
How will this political flash mob with the personal participation of Joe Biden and Jake Sullivan end? It may be a provocation of the West in the Donbass or on the border of Ukraine with the Russian Crimea.
Scholz also cannot be pleased that on the eve of his visit, the German Deutsche Welle was deprived of the right to broadcast in the Russian Federation. The corporation is closed, employees of the Russian bureau are deprived of accreditation. All in response to bans for RT DE in Germany.
Finally, the G7 countries reported that they were ready to impose sanctions in the event of a Russian invasion of Ukraine. As a member of this club, Scholz confirmed before his visit to Kiev that he "expects Russia to take urgent steps to de-escalate the situation around Ukraine." How will relations build, will the new federal chancellor maintain the positive developed by Angela Merkel, will he be able to correct the distortions left by her government?
Germany, the further, the more it coordinates its interests with the EU. Prior to Scholz's visit to Moscow, Martin Schultz, the former head of the European Parliament and candidate for chancellor from the SPD in 2017, managed to visit. Speaking about the future of relations between Germany and the Russian Federation, he warned about the need to take into account the "European aspect." Despite Russia's penchant for a bilateral approach, Germany thinks "like Europeans," the politician warned.
Brussels perceives Moscow's policy as a challenge to EU unity, and the "German bridge" causes Brussels rather distrust. Even the Green Transition has become a way to remove EU countries from Russian hydrocarbons. The policy of Germany in the Russian direction is considered as a "sanctions brake." In general, for the countries of the European Union, domestic policy becomes more important than foreign policy. External issues fall under the jurisdiction of the European Commission and NATO, are visited at the White House.
Germany, however, gave rise to disagreements within NATO. Berlin offered 5 thousand helmets and a field hospital as military assistance to Ukraine. White House dissatisfaction was followed by a loud whisper that Germany has become a "weak link" in Western strategy in the Russian direction. In Washington, they began to talk about the trustworthiness of Germany, as the main ally of America in Europe. To the extent that Olaf Scholz avoided mentioning Nord Stream 2 at a press conference with Biden.
And I want, and flings
Berlin is under pressure from Eastern European EU partners. Poland, the Baltic countries and even Kiev demand "clear signals" from Germany to the Russian leadership. A week before meeting with Vladimir Putin, Olaf Scholz at a joint press conference with the Prime Minister of Denmark said that the EU and the United States were ready to make a decision on sanctions, but did not declare their readiness not to put Nord Stream-2 into operation.
The "Eastern policy" of the German Social Democrats began with the supply of Russian natural gas to Germany. This may end. We are not talking about stopping deliveries, their volumes are growing. But the characteristics that are given to Germany's gas contracts by its allies and partners have changed the sign. The Nord Stream 2 project is drawn as a tool to undermine European unity, although it is pan-European. In particular, Austrian Minister of Digitalization and Economics Margarethe Schramböck thinks that Vienna will not abandon the project, values OMV participation in it.
But pressure brings results. German producers are gradually losing the Russian market. Germany's share in Russia's imports in 2021 amounted to 9.3%, in 2013 it was at a level slightly above 12%. In 2013, bilateral trade amounted to almost $75 billion, in 2021 volumes fell to $57 billion. Exports to Russia in 2013 amounted to $38 billion, in 2021 fell to $27.3 billion. The share in Russia's foreign trade turnover fell from 8.9% in 2013 to 7.2% in 2021.
According to the Eastern Committee of the German Economy, in 2021 the volume of trade between Germany and the Russian Federation grew to 60 billion euros, trade with Ukraine reached 8.5 billion euros, with Poland grew to 145.6 billion euros, trade with the Czech Republic was close to 97 billion euros.
Under these conditions, Gazprom looks like the main anchor that keeps Russia on the European Union market. In 2005, the company signed an agreement with BASF (Wintershall) and E.ON on the Nord Stream gas pipeline, the construction of which began five years later. The second line began to work in 2012 and increased the capacity of the system to 55 billion cubic meters per year.
The volume of long-term contracts for gas exports to Germany by this time exceeded 40 billion cubic meters per year. In 2020, gas exports to Germany amounted to almost 46 billion cubic meters, Italy took second place (20.8 billion cubic meters), Austria was third (13.2 billion cubic meters).
Deliveries to eight more Western European countries amounted to 22 billion cubic meters, Turkey imported 16 billion cubic meters of gas. The natural gas market in Eastern and Central Europe is also important. In 2020, Gazprom Export sold 39 billion cubic meters of gas in these countries, including Hungary, Poland, the Czech Republic and Slovakia.
Changes related to the policy of restrictions and sanctions have not yet affected Germany, its energy sector. Deliveries through the Nord Stream gas pipeline in 2021 remained at a record 2020 level of 59.2 billion cubic meters, the share of Russian gas in gas imports by Germany increased from 40% in 2012 to 55% in 2021.
High political pressure pipeline
The Nord Stream-2 project continues to face various obstacles. Kiev Mayor Vitaly Klitschko, warmed up by Angela Merkel, says that "if Germany wants to support Ukraine, then it should say goodbye to Nord Stream-2." Zelensky during Scholz's visit continued to criticize the project, calling it Moscow's strategic weapon.
In the same context, Washington's idea is that Berlin must agree to extend "Ukrainian transit" until 2034 in order to ensure transit payments exceeding, by the way, Western economic assistance to Kiev. "Plan B" provides for the refusal of certification of Nord Stream 2 AG as an independent operator. In this case, Gazprom will be able to use only half the capacity of the gas pipeline and, as expected, will continue transit through Ukraine.
It seems that Russia and Germany will have to defend the pan-European significance of the Nord Stream-2 project. The Kremlin has repeatedly assured Europe that it remains the guarantor of energy security for the entire European continent. What was heard in response: "Russia uses energy as a geopolitical weapon in Europe, an instrument of aggression against Ukraine."
By the beginning of the heating season of 2021/22, Scholz's predecessors managed to get tired of the "gas showdown" with the Kiev and Warsaw authorities. Merkel persuaded the White House to withdraw the gas pipeline from sanctions. But some allies continue to insist that for the sake of "common values," "transatlantic partnership" and "global world order," Berlin must adjust its economic interests by limiting dependence on Russia.
Ukraine between Germany, EU and Russia
The former Soviet Union "made both Germany and Ukraine happy" with its grace, and then with its collapse. The unification of Germany occurred only a year before the collapse of the USSR and the referendum on the independence of Ukraine. In 1993, Kiev, having adopted a resolution "On the main directions of Ukraine's domestic and foreign policy," approved the priority of the European vector, announced its desire to join the EU.
The radical change of power in Kiev in 2014, supported by the West, the withdrawal of Crimea and the war in the Donbass caused a crisis in political relations with Russia. Economic ties have also deteriorated. In 2013, bilateral trade with Russia amounted to $39.6 billion, in 2021 it fell to $12.3 billion. In 2021, Ukraine's exports to the Russian Federation grew to $4.1 billion, and in 2013 this figure was almost four (!) Times higher. Ukraine's share in Russia's foreign trade turnover fell from 4.7% to 1.5% during this time.
Kiev reoriented its economy and trade from Russia to EU countries. Their share in exports reached 40%. The country is experiencing economic difficulties, continues to get into debt. Brussels recognizes Ukraine's desire to become a member of the union, but this issue is not on the agenda for Brussels. This was announced on February 11 at a briefing by the official representative of the EU Foreign Service Peter Stano.
Scholz, while in Kiev, heard how Zelensky called the departure of diplomats from a number of countries to Western Ukraine a mistake, drew attention to the words of his ambassador in London that Ukraine was hinted not to raise the issue of NATO membership. Britain at the level of Deputy Minister of Defense said it would support Ukraine if it made such a decision. Germany may prefer to see Ukraine as a neutral country, but is unlikely to abandon its "inclusion" in its economic orbit and the perimeter of EU influence. As you know, the annual need of Germany for labor migrants is estimated at 400 thousand people.
Surrounded by Olaf Scholz, they say that one of his basic principles is "never to be offended, never to be hysterical." How this philosophy will work this time, in the face of a crisis in Western relations with Russia, his meeting with Vladimir Putin will show.