In a rivalry with Putin, Germany’s Schulz shows a more assertive style

FILE PHOTO: German Chancellor Olaf Schulz looks on as he attends a wreath-laying ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier next to the Kremlin Wall in Moscow, Russia February 15, 2022. REUTERS/Maxim Shemetov/Paul/File Photo/File Photo

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  • Schulz has faced criticism for being soft on Russia
  • A strong performance in Moscow helps allay such fears
  • Schultz resists Putin’s criticism of NATO
  • Scholz ‘finally puts his foot down’ bestselling ‘Bild’

MOSCOW/BERLIN (Reuters) – German Chancellor Olaf Schulz has faced accusations of poor leadership in the Ukraine crisis and too much tolerance of Russia, but his unexpectedly aggressive stance in talks in the Kremlin with President Vladimir Putin has earned him praise. .

Political critics have questioned how the moderate Schulz, who took office in December, would step on Tuesday into the “lion’s den”.

Russian officials have been known to publicly mock or seek to outdo visitors in a test of their strength. Putin invited Labrador to a 2007 meeting with Angela Merkel, Schulz’s predecessor as chancellor, despite her known fear of dogs.

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But while maintaining his trademark cool and calm, Schulz also proved that he quit a joint news conference with Putin during a day trip to Moscow that was part of the frantic diplomacy to avert a Russian invasion of Ukraine. Read more

When Putin criticized NATO, saying it launched war in Europe by bombing Serbia in 1999, Schulz responded by saying this was done to prevent genocide, referring to the persecution of Albanians in Kosovo.

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Putin responded by saying that Russia considers the treatment of Russians in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine genocide. And at a later one-on-one news conference, Schulz said Putin’s use of the word genocide was a mistake.

Schulz also mocked Putin’s concerns about NATO’s eastward expansion, given that it wasn’t on the agenda anytime soon, and in the Russian leader’s long period in power.

“I don’t know exactly how long the president intends to stay in office,” he said, smiling at Putin, who has led Russia as president or prime minister for more than two decades. “I have a feeling this might take a long time, but not forever.”

Asked later by reporters about the duel with Putin, Schulz smiled saying that this gave a flavor to what had been the “intense” talks that lasted four hours.

“In Moscow, Olaf Schulz finally set foot,” wrote Germany’s best-selling newspaper, Bild, which criticized the performance of the Social Democratic chancellor.

The weekly Der Spiegel said Schulz’s trip was “a kind of liberation in foreign policy”.

Berlin wakes up

On the core issue at hand, critics say Shultz is still conceding too much to Russia by reducing the likelihood of Ukraine joining NATO. His comment prompted Germany’s ambassador to the United States, Emily Haber, to tweet to explain that “Ukraine has the sovereign right to seek NATO membership.”

Marcel Dersus, a non-resident fellow at Kiel University’s Institute for Security Policy, said Putin may also have chosen not to confront Schulz too forcefully because Russia still has relatively close relations with Germany compared to other Western countries.

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However, the mere fact of visiting Moscow, together with Schulze’s performance, indicates, according to Dersus, that “Berlin is waking up, they have realized that this is a dangerous situation on which no one can sit, and their inaction is interpreted as indirect support for Moscow and have hardened their position.” “.

Schulz also expressed his concerns at the joint press conference on human rights and media freedoms in Russia, and directed the first question to a Deutsche Welle journalist traveling in his delegation. The Kremlin said this month it was closing the German channel’s operations in Moscow. Read more

Schulz later met many Russian activists.

His more assertive tone could go a long way to restoring his credibility as a player in Europe. French President Emmanuel Macron recently took the lead on the Ukraine crisis in Europe with a visit to Moscow, albeit with mixed results. Read more

It’s also important for Schulz to show he speaks for Europe, not just Germany, said Gwendolyn Sasse, a senior fellow at Carnegie Europe. He flew to Moscow only after a personal meeting with the leaders of France, Poland, the Baltic states and Ukraine. Macron visited Moscow before heading to Kiev.

“It would have sent the message that Europe is united,” Sassi said. And that’s exactly what the Kremlin does not want.”

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Additional reporting by Sarah Marsh in Berlin, Madeleine Chambers in Berlin and Mark Trevelyan in London; Editing by Sam Holmes and Gareth Jones

Our criteria: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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