In Joust With Putin, Germany’s Scholz Displays More Assertive Style

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German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has been accused of weak leadership in the Ukraine crisis and being soft on Russia. Yet on his visit to the Kremlin on Tuesday, he not only stood up to Russian President Vladimir Putin, he seemed to relish it.

In Joust With Putin, Germany’s Scholz Displays More Assertive Style

Political pundits wondered how the mild-mannered Scholz, who took office in December, would fare treading into “the lion’s den”. Russian officials have been known to publicly taunt or seek to outplay their visitors in a test of their mettle.

Putin invited his black Labrador into a meeting with former Chancellor Angela Merkel in 2007 despite her well-known fear of dogs.

But Scholz was unexpectedly combative in his joint news conference with Putin during a day-trip to Moscow that was part of frantic diplomacy to avert a Russian invasion of Ukraine – even while maintaining his trademark quiet, measured tone. read more

When Putin criticised NATO, saying it had launched a war in Europe by bombing the former Yugoslavia in 1999, Scholz hit back, saying this was done to prevent genocide, a reference to the persecution of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.

Putin countered that Russia considered the treatment of ethnic Russians in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine to be genocide. In a solo news conference later, Scholz said Putin’s use of the word genocide was wrong.

Scholz even poked fun at Putin’s fears of NATO’s eastern enlargement given it was not on the agenda any time soon and his lengthy time at the helm of his country.

“I don’t quite know how long the president plans to stay in office,” he said, with a grin towards Putin. “I have a feeling this could be a long time, but not forever.”

Some analysts praised him for also voicing concerns about civil rights issues and meeting with various activists.

When asked later by reporters about the jousting with Putin, Scholz smiled, saying this gave a flavour of what had been “intense” four-hour talks.

Some critics still complained he had ceded too much to Russia by minimising the possibility of Ukraine gaining NATO membership.

His more assertive tone though could go some way to restore his credibility as one of the top political players in Europe. French President Emmanuel Macron had taken the lead lately on the Ukraine crisis in Europe with a Moscow visit, albeit with mixed results.

And the French leader did not even attempt a rebuttal when Putin last week in a joint news conference questioned NATO’s claim that it was strictly a defensive alliance, citing the bloc’s offensive campaigns in Iraq, Libya, Afghanistan and Serbia.

Reuters

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Published on: February 16, 2022. at: 12:58
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