German Chancellor Olaf Scholz expects to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin in January to discuss Russia’s military buildup on Ukraine’s border and the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, German newspaper Bild reported on Jan. 3, citing an anonymous source.
Scholz said he wants a “fresh start” with Putin and wants to make Russia a “top priority,” the source said. This goes against the wishes of the Greens, a party within the ruling German coalition government that's more critical of the Kremlin.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock will travel to Washington on Jan. 6, where she will discuss the conflict with her U.S. counterpart, Antony Blinken, and other politicians, according to the ministry. Baerbock's agenda on her first official visit to the U.S. will include future dialogue with Russia, climate, foreign policy and strengthening democracies.
Meanwhile, political advisers to the leaders of Normandy Format peace talks participants Germany, France, Ukraine and Russia, will hold separate meetings this week, Germany’s government spokesman Steffen Gebeshtrait announced on Jan. 3.
The leaders of the four countries have not met together since 2019 — in November, Germany and France accused Russia of stalling the meetings.
Jens Pletner, Germany’s adviser on foreign policy and security will also meet his French counterpart Emmanuel Bonne and Russian representative Dmitry Kozak this week.
Regardless of the talks’ results, Pletner and Bonne will also meet with the head of President Volodymyr Zelensky's office, Andriy Yermak, Pletner said, without specifying the dates.
He stressed that Berlin is convinced that the conflict between Russia and Ukraine can only be resolved by political and not military means.
Ukraine’s intelligence estimated that Russia now has nearly 122,000 troops gathered within 200 kilometers from the Ukrainian state border and may launch an invasion in January or February.
The announcements came after a phone conversation between U.S. President Joe Biden and Zelensky on Jan. 2. Biden said that the U.S. and its allies and partners “will respond decisively if Russia further invades Ukraine,” the White House wrote in a statement.
Biden also promised not to discuss Ukraine's fate without its participation, something Ukraine has insisted on.
Biden also reaffirmed his support for the Normandy Format and said he was willing to back active diplomacy to implement the 2015 Minsk Agreements to end Russia’s war in eastern Ukraine.
Biden talked to Putin on Dec. 30. The U.S. president said he told the Russian leader that there would be a “heavy price to pay” if Russia invades Ukraine.
The buildup, along with the Kremlin’s aggressive rhetoric towards Ukraine and the West raised concerns about a possible large-scale invasion, seriously escalating the eight-year static war in the Donbas that has claimed over 13,000 lives.
Despite the intense diplomatic effort by Western leaders, Russia has shown no signs of de-escalation. According to NATO’s Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg, the Russian buildup continued as of late December.
The U.S. and a number of its European allies have warned Russia of serious consequences if it launches a large-scale invasion of Ukraine. Russia accused NATO of placing missiles on its doorstep and demanded guarantees that Ukraine will not become a member, something the alliance and Washington have so far refused to grant.
The European Parliament passed a resolution on Dec. 16 condemning Russia for threatening Ukraine with war and promising a “high economic and political price” for new hostilities.
These may include freezing Russian financial and physical assets in the EU, travel bans, the exclusion of Russia from the international SWIFT bank payment system, as well as targeting key sectors of Russia’s economy, including the country’s intelligence services and its military support, according to reports in U.S. and European media.
The potential sanctions could target Russian officers involved in the planning of a possible invasion, as well as oligarchs and other people “in the orbit of the Russian President (Vladimir Putin) and their families,” according to the EU's statement.
European parliament members have also urged the shutdown of Russia’s controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline regardless of whether it gets certified in Germany.
Russia's gas pipeline to Germany, Nord Stream 2, has been completed and awaits certification from the German regulator, which can come in 2022. If launched, Nord Stream 2 will be able to transport 55 billion cubic meters of gas per year under the Baltic Sea, depriving Ukraine of up to $2 billion of annual transit revenues and a deterrent against further Russian aggression.