President Volodymyr Zelensky warned German Chancellor Olaf Scholz that Russia was wielding its Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline as “a geopolitical weapon” to threaten energy security in Europe.
He added that German relations with the controversial gas pipeline bypassing Ukraine have been a growing irritant for both Washington and Kyiv.
"Germany and Ukraine shared disagreements over security threats from Nord Stream 2," said Zelensky at a joint press conference following his talks with Scholz in Kyiv on Feb. 14.
Scholz remained vague on possible sanctions against Nord Stream 2, instead focusing on the Minsk agreements, saying that Zelensky agreed to present a plan to introduce "special status" for Donbas, occupied by Russia since 2014.
Ukraine has previously denied granting special status to Donbas, saying that all Ukrainian regions will have more powers with the ongoing decentralization reform set, to give local communities more economic and local capacity.
The new German chancellor’s first meeting with Zelensky came amid mounting tensions over a possible further Russian invasion of Ukraine. Russia has massed around 140,000 troops around Ukraine and in the Russian-occupied regions of Ukraine in recent weeks.
Ukrainian officials have voiced their concern over Berlin's light response to Kremlin's ongoing military build-up.
Germany has been facing criticism in Ukraine and abroad for refusing to supply defensive weapons to Kyiv and taking a more explicit line on sanctions against Russia. The country has also been under fire for supporting the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which many see as yet another political tool in the hands of Russian President Vladimir Putin.
Contrary, Scholz said that no one should doubt Berlin’s determination and commitment to punish Russia should it choose to further invade Ukraine. “We will act then and there will be very far-reaching measures that will have a significant impact on Russia’s economic development,” Scholz said.
Scholz underscored that Germany has been Ukraine's largest financial donor over the past eight years and will continue to provide assistance. In addition to the $2 billion already invested in Ukraine, the chancellor announced a new loan of $170 million for Ukraine to become more resilient to what he called “foreign influences.”
"The sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine is not negotiable,” Scholz said. “We expect Russia to take clear steps to resolve the situation."
As expected, Scholz refrained from disclosing more details about the sanctions that Germany would impose or whether Nord Stream 2 would be blocked should Russia ramp up military aggression towards Ukraine. He said Berlin is still coordinating a package of sanctions with its Western allies.
Berlin remains Kremlin-owned Gazprom’s largest foreign customer, importing more than 55 percent of its gas from Russia.
Scholtz will travel to Moscow next where he will meet Putin on Feb. 15. If Washington’s fears of an imminent attack are well-founded, Scholz could be the last Western leader to get the chance, in person, to persuade Putin against launching a full-scale attack on Ukraine.
Scholz reiterated that Germany and its allies were ready for serious dialogue with Russia, though he added that it would also be very important to have direct negotiations between Kyiv and Moscow, something that Zelensky has been ready to undertake.
Meanwhile, over 20 embassies have urged their citizens to immediately leave the country following the White House’s new warnings that Russia could mount a major military assault on Ukraine “at any moment.”
Despite that, Kyiv remains open for top-level diplomatic visits, with Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio set to visit Kyiv on Feb. 15, while U.K. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is expected in Ukraine on Feb. 17.