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Munich Security Conference: Scholz: I refuse to take Putin at his word

Oliver Adey19 February 2022

At the Munich Security Conference, Chancellor Scholz categorically rejected Russia’s claim to Ukraine. “If we go back long enough in the history books, we have reason for wars that can last a few hundred years and destroy our entire continent.”

Chancellor Olaf Scholz underscored the West’s willingness to negotiate with Russia, but at the same time warned against an escalation of the current conflict. “War is threatening again in Europe and the risk is anything but averted,” Scholz said in a speech at the Munich Security Conference.

Scholz called for all channels of communication to be used: the NATO-Russia Council, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, direct talks between Russia and the United States, and the Normandy format, in which Germany and France have negotiated between Russia and the United States since 2014 mediate to Ukraine.

Similar to Federal Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock the day before, Scholz made it clear that, from his point of view, the current conflict originated in Russia. “Russia has made the question of Ukraine’s possible NATO membership a casus belli [Kriegsgrund] raised. That is paradoxical, because no decision is pending.” Putin was also aware of that, Scholz later added to a question from former US Senator Joe Lieberman. “Putin knows that Ukraine’s NATO accession is not on the agenda. “

The deployment of well over 100,000 Russian soldiers around Ukraine was “not justified by anything,” said Scholz. At the same time, the chancellor emphasized that the principle of free choice of alliance was “not up for negotiation”.

“Putin acted as a historian”

In the subsequent conversation with the head of the security conference, Wolfgang Ischinger, Scholz described his attitude as follows: “As much diplomacy as possible without being naive – that’s the claim.” A distinction must be made between Russia’s legitimate security interests and untenable demands. The West’s dual strategy is correct: to prepare sanctions in the event of a Russian attack on Ukraine and to negotiate at the same time.

“Putin worked as a historian,” said Scholz, adding that that also played a major role in the joint talks in the Kremlin. The chancellor was referring to an article that Putin published last year entitled “On the historical unity of Russians and Ukrainians.” This article blatantly challenges the statehood of Ukraine.

Scholz emphasized: “Peace in Europe can only be preserved if the borders are no longer moved, if they are accepted. If we go back long enough in the history books, then we have reason for wars that can last a few hundred years and destroy our whole continent. It must be clear that we accept the borders as they are and the sovereignty and integrity of the states that are there, and that is the only principle that guarantees security in Europe.”

Scholz said it’s always important to listen to what others are saying. Referring to Putin, however, he added: “If we took him at his word, we would have no reason to be optimistic about the future. But I refuse to do that.”

Scholz calls Putin’s genocide accusation “ridiculous”

Scholz underlined that neither NATO nor the EU would act aggressively against Russia. When he says that to Putin, he always argues with the conflict in the former Yugoslavia, where NATO attacked innocent people. He then pointed out that NATO wanted to prevent genocide there, Scholz continued. Putin then claims that genocide is taking place in Donbass, which is “ridiculous, to put it bluntly.”

Such an exchange of words between the two was public last Tuesday at the joint press conference between Putin and Scholz in the Kremlin. In Munich, Scholz added that Putin must understand that the people in the Western Balkans are ready to become a member of the European Union.

The Munich Security Conference began yesterday, Friday, and will end on Sunday. After Scholz, US Vice President Kamala Harris gave a keynote speech on NATO cohesion. In the afternoon, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyj is scheduled to speak in Munich.