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Biden, Germany's Scholz to stress unified front against any Russian aggression toward Ukraine

Scholz, under fire at home and abroad for showing insufficient leadership in the crisis, struck a more forceful tone before his departure, telling broadcaster ARD in an interview that he was open to deploying more troops to Lithuania to bolster NATO's eastern flank.

German Chancellor Scholz attends Bundestag session in Berlin
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz speaks during his first questioning session with lawmakers at the lower house of parliament Bundestag in Berlin on January 12, 2022.
HANNIBAL HANSCHKE/REUTERS
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WASHINGTON — U.S. President Joe Biden and German Chancellor Olaf Scholz will underscore their unity in opposing any Russian aggression against Ukraine when they meet at the White House on Monday, amid U.S. warnings that a Russian invasion could happen in days or weeks.

Scholz, under fire at home and abroad for showing insufficient leadership in the crisis, struck a more forceful tone before his departure, telling broadcaster ARD in an interview that he was open to deploying more troops to Lithuania to bolster NATO's eastern flank.

The German leader is due to visit both Ukraine and Russia next week, after meetings this week with the president of the European Council and the heads of Baltic states in a whirlwind of diplomacy aimed at averting a Russian invasion of Ukraine.

Scholz said he saw signs that Western efforts to resolve the dispute diplomatically - including through Normandy format talks with France, Ukraine and Russia - were starting to resonate.

"It's about preventing a war in Europe," Scholz told ARD, adding that his first meeting as chancellor with Biden would involve "hard, real political work." The two men met in Rome in October during a summit of leaders from Group of 20 nations while Scholz was still serving as finance minister.

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The Biden-Scholz relationship could be pivotal at a time when French President Emmanuel Macron has yet to declare if he will run in an election in three months, and while British Prime Minister Boris Johnson is engulfed in a domestic crisis.

U.S. officials downplayed differences with Germany, which relies on Russia for natural gas, and said the United States had been coordinating closely with Berlin and Brussels on a "swift and severe package of sanctions" to be imposed on Russia in the event of an invasion.

They noted — as Scholz has in recent interviews — that Germany was the second largest donor of non-military assistance to Kyiv after the United States, and said Germany's support in getting U.S. forces to Romania, which shares a border with Ukraine, was critical.

"I'm absolutely confident that Germany shares our concerns over Russian aggression, shares our support for Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity," a senior U.S. administration official said. The two countries were "in absolute agreement" on the need for additional measures such as sanctions and deployment of further troops to the eastern flank of NATO in the event of an invasion, the official added.

Details of the sanctions package are still being finalized, but banning Russia from the SWIFT financial transaction system remains an option, a second senior U.S. official said.

Biden, a longtime opponent of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline connecting Russia and Germany, will make clear the U.S. position that the pipeline will not move forward if "Russia invades Ukraine in one way or another," the first official said.

Germany, which counts on Russian gas to cover half its needs, has delayed approval of the pipeline until at least the second half of 2022, but has thus far refused to cancel the nearly completed project.

Scholz and Biden will discuss Germany's agenda for its leadership of the Group of Seven rich nations this year, their support for Western Balkan countries, and working to coordinate bilateral and multilateral responses to China's non-market economic practices and human rights abuses, U.S. officials said.

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Steven Sokol, president of the American Council on Germany, said Scholz needed to clarify Germany's position on Nord Stream 2 and show more "creativity" in providing assistance to Ukraine, short of sending in weapons.

"Germany has to understand that if it wants to be more of a player on the world stage and carry more responsibility, then with that comes taking more action," Sokol said. "In order to be a leader, Germany has to do more."

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal and Andreas Rinke in Washington, and Sarah Marsh in Berlin; editing by Tim Ahmann and Diane Craft.)

Related Topics: NATOGERMANYRUSSIA
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