The Biden administration and its European allies are holding a series of meetings to show Russia that an invasion of Ukraine would be responded with force.
The US and its European allies have issued joint and individual messages to Russian President Vladimir Putin several times in the last month, using nearly identical language, warning him that if he goes ahead with more military intervention in Ukraine, his country will face “massive consequences” and “severe costs.”
However, Germany, Europe’s largest economy and a diplomatic heavyweight within the 27-nation European Union, will play a major role in the intensity of the reaction. Potential actions, whether economic, diplomatic, or political, will be at the forefront of Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s and new German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock’s meetings in Washington on Wednesday.
Following a phone call between President Joe Biden and Putin last week, a conversation between Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Sunday, and a group discussion Tuesday between Biden’s national security adviser Jake Sullivan and his counterparts from the five Nordic countries, the Blinken-Baerbock meeting will take place.
It will take place ahead of a flurry of talks next week with NATO foreign ministers, top US and Russian officials, the NATO-Russia Council, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe.
Baerbock, Germany’s top diplomat in the first administration led by someone other than Angela Merkel in 16 years, has taken a harder stance on Russia than her predecessor. She has warned that any aggressive steps against Ukraine will cost Moscow a “high political and economic price.”
Baerbock emphasized the importance of the trans-Atlantic partnership and its foundation in shared values and adherence to international law ahead of her trip to Washington. She stated that Germany is “committed to work together to safeguard Europe’s peaceful order,” with a focus on Russia.
“When it comes to Russia, the European and American governments have a clear message. “Russian actions have a clear price tag (and) discussion is the only way out of the problem,” she added.
“In recent days and weeks, we have made this extremely plain to the Russian authorities,” she added. “We’re now entering a critical period, during which vital discussions will take place at numerous levels.” Even as the modalities of the meetings change, our message to the Russian government as trans-Atlantic allies remains consistent.”
Should Russia respond, Western officials have warned that a slew of economically damaging measures might be implemented. Among them are a near-total disconnection from the world banking system and measures toward increased NATO integration with non-allied European countries.
Germany is undoubtedly the lynchpin in the Biden administration’s efforts to generate international consensus behind a range of possible punitive measures. It will be critical to get its support for both the messaging and the implementation of whatever is agreed.
Germany’s commercial links with Russia may give influence, but they may also stymie efforts to form a united front against Moscow. Despite considerable condemnation from the United States, the center-left administration of new Chancellor Olaf Scholz has showed no willingness to stop natural gas supply through a newly completed pipeline between Russia and Germany, a move that would be detrimental to both nations.
In comparison to many other European countries, Germany has taken a less combative approach to Russia. Last year, Merkel urged the Biden administration not to impose sanctions on the corporation developing the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which many fear will make Europe more energy dependent on Russia and make Ukraine more vulnerable.
Nord Stream 2 is a key source of anxiety in Washington, and Congress is slated to vote on two legislation linked to it, as well as additional Russia sanctions, next week, just as the European summits are taking place. If Russia invades Ukraine, a Republican plan would automatically apply Nord Stream sanctions, while a Democratic bill would impose a broader set of sanctions.
Nord Stream 2 has been criticised by both Democratic and Republican politicians in Washington for boosting Russia’s power over Germany and restricting what Berlin might be ready to do in the event of a fresh invasion. Germany is significantly reliant on Russian natural gas, as is much of the European Union.
“In order for sanctions to be successful, they have to be effective in the dollar and the euro,” said Rep. Mike Waltz, a Florida Republican who traveled to Ukraine with other US legislators in December.
According to Waltz, the new pipeline “gives Putin a checkmate over Western Europe” and limits Germany’s involvement on sanctions and other preventative actions that both sides desire.
“I don’t understand how they can sell their energy security for a firm stand for Ukraine,” he added. “It puts Ukrainians, Eastern Europeans, our friends, and NATO in a very vulnerable situation.”
Rep. Seth Moulton, a Massachusetts Democrat who also traveled to Ukraine with the congressmen, said he believes the United States would be able to provide energy to Germany if it is unable to buy Russian gas.
“My impression is that Germany is catching up,” Moulton remarked. “They are beginning to comprehend the gravity of the threat and the possible power Putin has over them and other Western European countries.”