BERLIN — German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said he will “soon” travel to Moscow to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin amid what he called a “very serious” situation at the Ukrainian border.
“I will now travel to the US, and I will soon be in Moscow to continue speaking about the questions that are necessary,” Scholz told public broadcaster ZDF in an interview Wednesday evening. While he didn’t reveal a date for his Moscow trip, Scholz said the meeting “is planned, and will happen soon.”
The chancellor, who will travel to Washington on Sunday and Monday to meet US President Joe Biden, also acknowledged that with about 130,000 soldiers stationed near the Ukraine border, the Russian president could be willing to invade his neighbor.
“You can’t overlook the fact that there are a lot of soldiers and troops on the Ukrainian border. All that could be the precondition for military action,” Scholz said. “That is why it is so important that we are very clear in what we are saying and what we are preparing — namely that endangering the territorial sovereignty and integrity of Ukraine, attacking there militarily, could carry a very high price. And I think this message has been understood.”
Scholz’s remarks follow criticism both at home and abroad over his new government’s response to Russia’s military build-up. Berlin has refused to deliver defensive weapons to Ukraine, blocked the shipment of certain weapons by allies to the country, and had long shown reluctance to include the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline under a potential sanctions package should Russia invade — though the German chancellor has more recently said the pipeline would be on the table if Moscow attacks.
He sought to counter this criticism Wednesday by stressing that he already spoke to Putin over the phone and that his government was closely coordinating its next steps with other allies, including Biden, with whom he said he had “very thorough cooperation.”
When asked about accusations that Germany may no longer be a reliable partner, Scholz argued: “Our allies know exactly what they have in us,” and claimed Germany was making “a very high military contribution” to NATO — though Berlin continues to fall short of the alliance’s 2 percent defense spending goal.
“Germany is the country that has given the biggest aid to Ukraine in the last years, almost €2 billion,” Scholz said.
He said his government is pursuing a “dual strategy” toward Russia, warning Moscow of the consequences of further aggression toward Ukraine while also looking for a way to achieve a “peaceful development” through talks.
“A lot of citizens in this country are afraid of actually … having a war in Europe. It is our common task to ensure with this dual strategy that it does not come to that,” Scholz said.
While rifts have emerged within his Social Democratic Party over how to deal with Russia, Scholz insisted the SPD is “very united, and it stands behind the policy that the chancellor is pursuing, and it is very clear.”