President Biden said Monday the U.S. and Germany are aligned on fighting Russian aggression in Ukraine, amid concerns that Berlin has been too soft in condemning Moscow‘s actions.
Ahead of his first bilateral meeting with new German Chancellor Olaf Scholz at the White House, Mr. Biden sought to dismiss fears that Washington and Berlin weren’t on the same page against Russia.
“Germany is one of America’s closest allies,” he said, adding the two nations were “working lockstep” to address Russian aggression.
“I’m looking forward to working closely together with you,” Mr. Biden said.
Mr. Scholz said that the U.S. is one of Germany‘s “closest allies” and that he was in Washington to discuss combating a potential Russian invasion of Ukraine.
Mr. Biden is expected to press the center-left chancellor to take a stronger stance against Russian aggression in Ukraine as the U.S. looks to shore up its Western alliances amid global tensions. Berlin has balked at approving offensive weapons shipments to Kyiv and Mr. Scholz has yet to explicitly state a German-Russia gas pipeline project will be blocked if Russia invades its neighbor.
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In a White House meeting, Mr. Biden will press his German counterpart to get behind a package of “swift and severe” sanctions against Russia in the event of military action, an administration official told reporters.
The meeting is one of two key diplomatic events Monday as world leaders scramble to head off a war in Ukraine. French President Emmanuel Macron traveled to Moscow to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin. Russian officials said the two men had some three hours of talks, including a working dinner, before a scheduled press briefing.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock was meeting with Ukrainian officials in Kyiv at the same time as Mr. Scholz‘s Washington trip. The chancellor’s officer said he would meet Mr. Macron and Polish President Andrzej Duda when he returns to Germany Tuesday.
Russia has denied that it intends to attack Ukraine, even as it demands NATO forever bar Ukraine as a member and pull back forces broadly across Eastern Europe. Pentagon officials say the build-up of Russian troops along Ukraine‘s border is the largest since the Cold War, estimating that the Russian military has massed 70% of the forces it would need for a full-scale invasion.
In recent weeks, Mr. Biden has escalated his rhetoric, threatening severe economic sanctions on Russia‘s financial sector and against Russian President Vladimir Putin’s inner circle.
Mr. Scholz, meanwhile, has been rather muted over his response to the Ukraine crisis, frustrating the U.S. and other NATO allies. He said last month that Germany would join its allies in imposing sanctions on Russia, but would not provide “lethal weapons” to Ukraine.
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The lack of a forceful response to Russia has raised questions about NATO unity in the face of pressure from Mr. Putin, and of Germany‘s reliance on Nord Stream 2, the just-completed $11 billion natural gas pipeline connecting the two countries.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have slammed what they say is Germany‘s soft stance towards Russia.
Sen. Rob Portman, Ohio Republican, last month criticized Berlin for not allowing flights carrying military aid for Ukraine to fly through German airspace. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Connecticut Democrat, said the Germans are “missing in action” on Ukraine.
The German ambassador in Washington last week warned Berlin that many in the U.S. view Germany as an “unreliable partner.”
Mr. Scholz, famous in Germany as a cautious public speaker, insisted in a Washington Post interview published Sunday night that Germany‘s response to a potential Ukraine invasion would be “swift and decisive.”
An administrative official told reporters that Germany has been “very supportive” of the U.S. stance towards Russia, adding they are “confident” Berlin shares their concerns.
He said Berlin‘s refusal to send arms was consistent with its long-standing ban on exporting weapons to crisis regions.
Republicans have pushed Mr. Biden to include Nord Stream 2 as part of the sanctions imposed on Russia, arguing that the president needs to crack down on Berlin doing business with Moscow.
Mr. Scholz told the Post that he would consider halting operations on the pipeline as part of Western sanctions against Russia, but again refused to make any binding promises.
The Trump administration had imposed sanctions on the Nord Stream 2 development, but Mr. Biden waived them, effectively allowing the final construction work to move forward.
At the time, Republican lawmakers slammed Mr. Biden, accusing him of strengthening Russia‘s position in Europe and giving them the ability to weaponize their energy. Russia provides about one-third of the natural gas used in Europe.
The U.S. has deployed 3,000 troops to Eastern Europe and NATO. Pentagon officials insist they will not fight Russian troops in Ukraine but are being sent to boost NATO forces already in Europe near the Russian border.
Roughy 2,000 troops were deployed from Fort Bragg, North Carolina, to Poland and Germany. An additional 1,000 troops in Germany have moved to Romania.