Germany’s chancellor must show leadership on Russia – Ukraine envoy

Service members of the Ukrainian armed forces walk at combat positions in Luhansk Region
Service members of the Ukrainian armed forces walk at combat positions near the line of separation from Russian-backed rebels outside the town of Popasna in Luhansk Region, Ukraine January 6, 2022. REUTERS/Maksim Levin

January 11, 2022

By Andreas Rinke

BERLIN (Reuters) – Germany’s new Chancellor Olaf Scholz must show more leadership in the conflict between Russia and Ukraine, and take bold steps to force the Kremlin to the negotiating table rather than just rely on dialogue, Kiev’s envoy to Berlin told Reuters.

Russia has massed troops near Ukraine’s border and demanded the U.S.-led NATO alliance rule out admitting the former Soviet state or expanding further into what Moscow sees as its backyard.

Ukrainian Ambassador Andrij Melnyk said it would be dangerous to accede to Russian demands and that Germany should on the contrary push for Ukraine’s quick accession to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) and the European Union.

He added that Germany should scrap the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline project to bring Russian gas directly to the country, bypassing Ukraine and therefore depriving it of lucrative transit fees.

Ukraine also needed German defensive weapons to dissuade the Russians from attacking, he said.

“Today, we need the personal leadership of Chancellor Olaf Scholz to force (Russian) President Vladimir Putin to the negotiating table,” Melnyk said. “This would be a litmus test for the new foreign policy.”

“So far there has been a lot of dialogue with Russia – alas, without results – but not enough severity,” he said.

Melnyk’s comments come the same week the U.S. Senate is set to vote on a bill to slap sanctions on Nord Stream 2.

Critics of the pipeline fear Russia is using it as a geopolitical tool, while supporters say it is a commercial project.

Germany’s new, three-party government is divided over the pipeline. Scholz’s Social Democrats, who were in government with Angela Merkel’s conservatives, support it as the country is hungry for natural gas after shutting nuclear and coal plants. But one of its junior coalition partners, the Greens, oppose Nord Stream 2.

Scholz’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment for this story.

He has previously said Germany is ready to impose sanctions on Russia but not before an aggression is detected and Nord Stream 2 should not be singled out.

The conflict should be resolved by political, not military means, his government has said, and Berlin supports NATO’s position that membership should not be ruled out although it is not for any time soon.

But Melnyk said the West should not wait until the Kremlin had decided to attack to apply further economic sanctions, as this would have “fatal consequences” for Ukraine, which lost its Crimea region to Russia eight years ago.

“The errors of the past should not be repeated,” he said. “The new government must act preventively and already today make the political decision to scrap the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline on the bed of the Baltic Sea.”

Russia denies any plans for an attack and says it is responding to what it calls aggressive behaviour from Ukraine and NATO.

Melnyk said Germany held the keys to Ukraine’s NATO accession and called on the new coalition “not to miss this historic opportunity to strengthen security on the European continent.”

To agree with Russia to delay or nix Ukraine’s NATO accession in order to ward off an immediate conflict would be dangerous, he said.

“There should be no lazy compromises made with Russia at the cost of the Ukrainians,” he said.

(Reporting by Andreas Rinke; Writing by Sarah Marsh; Editing by Miranda Murray)

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