German Chancellor Olaf Scholz will visit the White House on Feb. 7 to discuss ways to discourage a feared Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Biden administration announced Thursday.
The visit of Scholz, who was installed as chancellor last month, will give President Biden an opportunity to push the NATO ally to do more to support Ukraine’s pro-Western government and to potentially penalize Russia by blocking the operation of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.
“The leaders will discuss their shared commitment to both ongoing diplomacy and joint efforts to deter further Russian aggression against Ukraine,” the White House said in a statement.
“They will also discuss the importance of continued close cooperation on a range of common challenges, including ending the COVID-19 pandemic, addressing the threat of climate change, and promoting economic prosperity and international security based on our shared democratic values.”
Scholz has taken heat for not taking a more active role to support the Ukrainian government in the crisis. Kiev Mayor Vitali Klitschko slammed Berlin Wednesday for providing Ukraine’s forces with a paltry 5,000 military helmets.
“The behavior of the German government leaves me speechless,” Klitschko, a former heavyweight boxing champion, told the German tabloid Bild. “The defense ministry apparently hasn’t realized that we are confronted with perfectly equipped Russian forces that can start another invasion of Ukraine at any time.”
“What kind of support will Germany send next?” Klitschko added. “Pillows?”
Germany has Europe’s largest economy, is the sixth-largest energy consumer in the world, and is the largest consumer of natural gas. The Nord Stream 2 pipeline directly links Russia and Germany under the Baltic Sea, bypassing Ukraine and depriving Kiev of lucrative gas transfer fees.
The White House waived sanctions against the project in May, with Biden citing the fact that it was “almost completely finished.” Construction was completed in September, but the pipeline is not yet operational.
On Wednesday, State Department spokesman Ned Price told NPR that “if Russia invades Ukraine, one way or another, Nord Stream 2 will not move forward, and we want to be very clear about that.”
Biden suggested last week that a “minor incursion” by Russia into Ukraine might result in less-severe penalties due to disagreement among NATO countries — horrifying Ukrainian officials who said that the remark could give Russian President Vladimir Putin a “green light” to invade.
The US says Putin has massed about 100,000 troops near Ukraine’s borders. The White House recently alleged Russia may stage a “false flag” attack on its own forces to provide a justification for war. Putin is demanding that NATO rule out accepting Ukraine as a member, but the Cold War-era military alliance has declined to do so.
When Biden was vice president in 2014, Russia invaded the Crimean peninsula and then annexed the territory from Ukraine following a disputed referendum. Putin’s government also allegedly supports a pair of pro-Russia breakaway states in eastern Ukraine.