Putin & new German chancellor Scholz admit differences
Germany's Chancellor Olaf Scholz has visited Moscow and met with President Vladimir Putin for the first time since taking office, to discuss energy security and the possibility for de-escalating the ongoing crisis around Ukraine.
Putin hosted Scholz on Tuesday, where the two met for just over three hours, according to Kremlin Press Secretary Dmitry Peskov. Afterwards, the two gave a joint press briefing, during which both leaders stated the need for continued dialogue between Russia and the West, despite the significant differences between the two sides.
The German leader stated that the accession of Ukraine to NATO, which Russia has strongly advocated against, is not currently on the table, and said that while every country should be allowed to choose its own alliances, "but still, we should look at reality and that is: there is a conflict that we want to de-escalate. That is the task of the hour."
Scholz also said that he hoped that a Tuesday announcement that Russia was bringing home some of its troops from Belarus, where they had been deployed near the Ukrainian border, was a sign that further withdrawal would follow. However, he warned that if an invasion did take place, there would be "harsh consequences" for Russia.
Putin told journalists that the two leaders' discussion had been "business-like," and said, "I got the impression that the Federal Chancellor is also disposed towards further pragmatic and mutually beneficial cooperation with Russia." He added that energy deals play a crucial role in the two countries' relationship, and that Russia currently supplies more than a third of Germany's gas and oil.
Scholz's visit, which followed a trip to Kiev on Monday, comes amid heightened alarm about the possibility of a Russian attack on Ukraine, which Western leaders have been warning about for months. This weekend, officials from the US and UK indicated that they believed a war could start at any moment, and some media outlets have reported that Moscow is planning to invade on Wednesday. On Tuesday, the Russian ministry of defense announced that it was withdrawing some of the troops it had dispatched to Belarus for joint military exercises, which are scheduled to end February 20.
Russia has denied that it has any aggressive intentions, and has called for security deals that would limit the expansion of NATO, the US-led military bloc, into Ukraine, a proposal that Western negotiators have rejected. On Monday, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov said that Moscow was "dissatisfied" with Washington and NATO's response, but that he still saw the possibility for further dialogue.