Macron was in Moscow in talks with Putin, and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz was in Washington meeting with Biden on Monday. Despite Germany lately coming under heavy criticism from the more hawkish corners of the NATO alliance for its less than muscular response to the Ukraine crisis, Biden told reporters while welcoming Scholz that they are "in lockstep" on "confronting Russian aggression" at Ukraine's border.
Going into the meeting, admin officials said the two leaders would spend time talking about a "robust sanctions package" aimed at Moscow in the event of a military offensive. However, Scholz has not indicated willingness to go along with any level of punitive economic measures, given also Germany's close trade and energy ties with Russia, not the least of which still looms large in the background is Nord Stream 2.
"Germany is one of America's closest allies. We're working in lockstep to further deter Russian aggression in Europe," Pres. Biden says during meeting with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz. https://t.co/FTICr9WzP4 pic.twitter.com/al0ffdfhIE— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) February 7, 2022
On this matter, the White House indicated Biden is pressing the German Chancellor on putting in place plans to halt cooperation with Russia on Nord Stream 2 if Ukraine is invaded. But given the pipeline is now complete, and ready to start pumping gas while merely awaiting final German regulatory approval, it's hard to see how amenable Berlin will in the end be to this option.
CNN described, "Looming over the meeting, however, is the question of Scholz's resolve to confront Putin. Among the United States' major European allies, Germany has appeared the most reluctant to commit to lethal aid, sending thousands of helmets instead of weapons and refusing to allow another NATO ally, Estonia, to send German-made howitzers to Ukraine."
Germany remains among leading European countries which has refused to bolster its forces along NATO's 'eastern flank' - and has gone so far as to ban its weapons from being shipped Ukrainian forces.
Perhaps the more interesting eye-brow raising statements from the day's flurry of diplomatic activity on the Ukraine crisis came from Secretary of State Antony Blinken. He started with the usual statements of vowing "real and profound consequences should Russia choose to continue aggression" - while also teasing specific courses of action previously floated as options on the table:
"We developed a high-impact, quick-action response that would inflict massive costs on the Russian economy and financial system including sanctions and significant export control," Blinken said, adding that the EU is preparing "complementary" actions.
Ahead of Biden-Scholz presser, @PressSec affirms that WH policy on Nord Stream 2 is 'if they (Russia) invade, it will not move forward."— Eli Stokols (@EliStokols) February 7, 2022
But she won't go as far to say if that's also Germany's position.
He said this while standing beside European Commission Vice-President Josep Borrell at their joint presser in Brussels. Blinken charged that Russia stands ready to disrupt Europe's gas supplies:
"When Russia halted gas supplies over a dispute with Ukraine in 2009, people died from the cold. And when energy supplies fail, economies falter," he said. "We’re determined to prevent that from happening and to mitigate the impact on energy supplies and prices should Russia choose to cut natural gas supplies to Europe more than it already has."
Blinken referenced ongoing measures of the US administration to put in place contingency plans "in the event that Russia turns off the spigot or initiates a conflict that disrupts the flow of gas through Ukraine," but without confirming much in the way of specifics.
But he also hinted that a diplomatic opening could be focused upon proper implementation of the prior Minsk agreements, which would involve breakaway regions of Donbass moving toward a "special status"...
Blinken is asked about the Minsk agreements. He says he supports advancing them (even as some in Kyiv say it could destabilize Ukraine). "It is a fair assessment to say that Ukraine has sought to move forward [on its obligations], while Russia has moved forward on virtually none" pic.twitter.com/tLXWAN5EJ7— John Hudson (@John_Hudson) February 7, 2022
"The [Minsk] agreements speak of special status for the Donbas and I believe that with the appropriate sequencing, Ukrainians would be prepared to move forward", Blinken said.
He emphasized that all sides are in agreement on respecting the Minsk accords, but still faulted Russia for failing to adhere to them, which remains a likely only avenue to ensure peace and find a lasting settlement to the crisis.