WASHINGTON — President Biden will meet with Olaf Scholz, Germany’s new chancellor, at the White House on Monday, a visit meant to publicly reinforce a key bond in the Western alliance amid fears that Germany hasn’t been a strong enough partner. powerful in calming tensions between Russia and Ukraine.
The first few months on the job were eventful for Mr. Scholz, who took over from Angela Merkel, a politician who had worked with four US presidents. Berlin’s reluctance to join its NATO allies in outlining the consequences for Russia if it invades Ukraine has damaged Mr. Scholz’s reputation to the point that last week his ambassador in Washington sent a warning: Many in the United States, she writes, view Germany as an “unreliable partner.”
The situation represents a diplomatic pivot for Mr. Biden, who touted his relationship with Ms. Merkel during a meeting at the White House in July: “Good friends can disagree” on issues such as how each led its relations with Russia, he said at the time. . More than six months later, Mr. Biden does not have the luxury of agreeing to disagree on Russia: Biden administration officials estimate that the Russian military has already mustered 70% of the forces it has. would need to stage a full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
In a call with reporters on Sunday, administration officials said Biden would seek to discuss a “swift and tough” package of sanctions against Russia if its President, Vladimir V. Putin, decides to withdraw. invade Ukraine. In recent weeks, Mr. Biden has threatened harsh economic sanctions against Russia’s financial sector and against members of Mr. Putin’s inner circle.
Mr. Scholz has been less willing to publicly lay out such consequences, a low-key stance that has drawn criticism from both Republicans and Democrats: “The Germans are missing right now,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, a Connecticut Democrat, who has visited Ukraine in January, noted recently. Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio, publicly criticized Germany not to allow flights carrying military aid for Ukraine to fly over German airspace.
Mr. Biden and Mr. Scholz are also likely to discuss the controversial $11 billion Nord Stream 2 pipeline, a natural gas conduit being built between Germany and Russia. The pipeline has been assaulted by Mr. Biden and his advisers as merely a coercive tool against Ukraine and other allies, even though the president agreed last year to waive sanctions related to the project.
The pipeline is currently pending as European Commission officials investigate whether the project, designed by Gazprom, Russia’s largest energy company, is in line with European energy policy. US lawmakers are increasingly calling for the pipeline to be shut down if Russia mounts an invasion of Ukraine. A senior Biden administration official told reporters Sunday night that if Russia invaded, the project would not move forward.
Mr. Scholz was vague about whether he would agree to end the pipeline project. But he told the Washington Post, in an interview published Sunday eveningthat Germany’s response with her allies to such an invasion would be “united and decisive”.
Mr. Biden and Mr. Scholz will hold a press conference on Monday afternoon after their meeting.