Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) has defended in principle the reconciliation policy of his predecessor Angela Merkel (CDU) with Russia. “The attempt at reconciliation can never be wrong, and neither can the attempt to get along peacefully,” said Scholz in an interview with the German Press Agency. “I see myself close by my predecessor’s side.”
However, the SPD politician assessed the energy policy towards Russia in recent years quite differently. “But it was a mistake in German economic policy that we concentrated our energy supply too much on Russia without building the necessary infrastructure so that we could quickly change course if the worst came to the worst,” he said. As Hamburg’s mayor, however, he himself campaigned for the construction of liquid gas terminals on the north German coast. “Now we have to catch up quickly.”
Scholz was Merkel’s vice chancellor and finance minister for almost four years from 2018 to 2021 and was also a member of her cabinet between 2007 and 2009 as labor minister. Even after he was sworn in as chancellor, he still defended the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline as a “private business project” and described the official decision to commission it as “completely apolitical”. He only pulled the ripcord two days before the start of the Ukraine war.
When asked whether that meant that he hadn’t made any mistakes in Russia policy, but Merkel had, Scholz said: “That is an inadmissible shortening of my answer. I always worked well with the former chancellor and I see no reason to question that afterwards.”
Two weeks ago, Merkel defended her much-criticized Russia policy in a first interview after she was handed over to Scholz and refused an apology. In an interview with the editorial network Germany published on Saturday, she reiterated this attitude – also with regard to energy policy. “I didn’t believe in change through trade, but in connection through trade with the second largest nuclear power in the world,” she said. But it wasn’t an easy decision. “The thesis at the time was: When Nord Stream 2 is in operation, (Russian President Vladimir) Putin will no longer supply gas through Ukraine or will even attack it.” However, the West made sure that gas was still routed through Ukraine . “At the time, the German economy opted for pipeline gas transport from Russia because it was economically cheaper than liquid gas from Saudi Arabia, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates and later also from the USA,” explained Merkel.
Merkel has repeatedly justified her decision to oppose Ukraine’s NATO accession process at the 2008 summit in Bucharest. Scholz also agrees with her on this point. “The criteria for joining NATO must be met by any country wishing to join the alliance. Ukraine’s entry into NATO was not on the cards,” he told dpa. “Everyone knew that, including the Russian President. It is all the more absurd that Putin justified his attack on Ukraine by saying, among other things, that at some point Ukraine could somehow suddenly end up there.” It was clear that this would not be an issue at all in the foreseeable future.
Neither Merkel nor Scholz admit personal mistakes in Russia policy – unlike Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier. At the beginning of April, he was very self-critical about his role in energy policy as head of the Chancellor’s office under Gerhard Schröder and as foreign minister under Merkel. “My sticking to Nord Stream 2 was clearly a mistake. We held on to bridges that Russia no longer believed in and that our partners warned us about.”