Vienna, February 14, 2022
by Edward Steen, Sec-Gen
Germany and its new Chancellor Olof Schulz are proving the main blockage to any serious Western response to the game-playing Russian president Putin. During the night it was still unclear whether there is an imminent risk of war over Ukraine, now virtually encircled by some 130,000 Russian troops.
The London Guardian’s live 24-hour coverage gives a close-up view from Kyiv and Moscow, but the situation remains as chaotic as Putin likes things to be, with flurries of panicky telephone calls and threats from US President Biden and others to react “decisively” if Russia invades. No-one seems keen on a third world war, however. So what does “decisiveness” actually mean?
The key decision – the one that might finally unite the opposition to Putin – is about Nord Stream 2: will Germany get off the fence on whether or not the pipeline should be opened? German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has called on Vladimir Putin to “untie the noose around Ukraine’s neck.” This kind of plea is proving as ineffective as US bluster.
It is precisely because of the pipeline that Olof Scholz’s trip to Moscow today is so crucial. Will he or won’t he use the closure of the pipeline as a bargaining chip? If he does he risks losing 50% of Germany’s gas supplies, now perilously low, which come from Russia. Not to mention the huge and growing volume of German exports to Russia. So will national self-interest trump the only real geopolitical stick the west has to hand?
So far the German chancellor’s low and indecisive profile have led to him being described as missing in action. The Economist puts it thus: “Like an actor nervous of uttering “Macbeth” in a theatre, Mr Scholz refuses to let the words “Nord Stream 2” pass his lips in public. This increasingly farcical stance, designed to forestall Russian allegations that Germany is wielding energy as a weapon, wins the chancellor few friends. Nor does Germany’s stubborn denial of Ukraine’s requests for weapons.”
Of immediate relevance is the Kremlin’s terse message, relayed through Viktor Tatarintsev, Russian ambassador in Stockholm, and relayed through the daily Aftendagbladet.
Moscow “doesn’t give a shit” about the threat of Western sanctions” over Ukraine, said the veteran diplomat in an interview posted online late on Saturday. “We have already had so many sanctions and …. they’ve had a positive effect on our economy and agriculture,” said the diplomat, 67, now on his fourth posting to Sweden. Tatatintsev is a highly regarded figure in the Kremlin, and speaks the language of Putin.
Meanwhile Russia said has just shut down German broadcaster Deutsche Welle’s operations in Moscow in retaliation for Berlin banning Russian broadcaster RT DE. Its staff staff have been stripped of their accreditation. Moscow said it would stop the German channel being broadcast in Russia and start proceedings that would see it declared a “foreign agent”, a designation that carries a negative Soviet-era connotation.
In Kyiv, the Mayor Vitali Klitschko, former world heavyweight boxing champion, is ready to stand up and fight. “The media is Russia’s main weapon, not bullets or tanks. As a former soldier I am ready to fight on the front line,” he recently told British Channel 4’s Matt Frei.