Germany's Olaf Scholz Arrives for Joe Biden Talks Under Pressure on Putin's Pipeline

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is visiting the White House on Monday to speak with U.S. President Joe Biden about averting a military invasion of Ukraine by Russia.

The two men will also discuss how Nord Stream II — a key gas pipeline project that connects Russia and Western Europe — will impact the negotiations to end a possible conflict.

The controversial pipeline, expected to begin operating in the second half of this year, is set to be the second natural gas pipeline running directly from Russia to Germany through the Baltic Sea. It's controlled by Russian state-owned company Gazprom.

Nord Stream I, which is majority owned by Gazprom, became operational in 2011. It can supply 1.9 trillion cubic feet of gas per year. Nord Stream II will double this to around 3.9 trillion cubic feet.

Russia's steady buildup of some 100,000 troops and artillery on its western flank with Ukraine has led to concern among the NATO allies and fears of an imminent war. Newsweek reported Monday that Ukraine had been conducting urban warfare training drills for national guard, nurses, and other first responders in the Chernobyl disaster zone, to prepare for a possible attack.

Germany and the United States issued a united threat to Russia at the end of January, saying that the $11 billion pipeline would be targeted by sanctions should Russia decide to invade Ukraine.

Aside from this, Germany has taken a lukewarm stance on Ukraine, and hasn't been willing to provide Kyiv with weapons in response to the growing threat of conflict with its neigbor. German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht told Die Welt on January 23 that Berlin would send a field medical facility to Ukraine in February, but that it wouldn't transfer weapons. This is different behaviour to other NATO members such as the United States and the U.K., which have provided weapons to Kyiv. Several Baltic states have also sent weapons to Ukraine as tensions have been rising.

Germany's move to not send weapons has raised questions about Berlin's commitment to opposing Moscow's aggression and its growing reliance on the Nord Stream II pipeline, which Scholz previously insisted was "a business project."

Biden last year removed sanctions on the project, allowing construction to proceed. But he was criticized by several GOP lawmakers for the move, as they saw it as strengthening Moscow's hand at the negotiating table.

Close Relationship With Putin

Scholz himself as been derided on social media and by critics for his apparent reluctance to make forceful statements on the Ukraine crisis. The chancellor has become as easy figure to ridicule as his predecessor as chancellor in the Social Democrats, Gerhard Schröder, always made it known publicly he was friends with Vladimir Putin, and often jumped to his defense. On Friday, it was reported that Schröder had been nominated to join the board of directors at Gazprom.

The German press has also reported that Scholz hasn't always prioritized relations with Biden. Der Spiegel reported in late January that the chancellor had found no time in his busy schedule to meet with Biden, though those reports were quickly denied by the White House.

Adding to this, on January 22, Vice Admiral Kay-Achim Schönbach, the head of Germany's navy, resigned after coming under fire for arguing that Russia and Putin "deserved respect."

According to the White House, Biden and Scholz will also discuss the COVID pandemic, climate change and promoting economic prosperity and international security.

If Russia decides to invade Ukraine, it won't be the first time. In 2014, Russia annexed Crimea, following protests in Ukraine that toppled the country's pro-Russian president. Since then, an estimated 14,000 people have been killed in the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz 12
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz attends the weekly government cabinet meeting on January 26, 2022, in Berlin. Scholz will be at the White House on Monday to speak with U.S. President Joe Biden about averting a military invasion of Ukraine by Russia. Getty/Clemens Bilan