German Chancellor Olaf Scholz has been accused of weak leadership in the Ukraine crisis and being soft on Russia. Yet on his visit to the Kremlin on Tuesday, he not only stood up to Russian President Vladimir Putin, he seemed to relish it, according to Reuters.
Scholz was unexpectedly combative in his joint news conference with Putin during a day-trip to Moscow that was part of frantic diplomacy to avert a Russian invasion of Ukraine – even while maintaining his trademark quiet, measured tone.
When Putin criticized NATO, saying it had launched a war in Europe by bombing the former Yugoslavia in 1999, Scholz hit back, saying this was done to prevent genocide, a reference to the persecution of ethnic Albanians in Kosovo.
Putin said Russia does not want a war in Europe, but considered the treatment of ethnic Russians in the Donbass region of eastern Ukraine to be genocide. In a solo news conference later, Scholz said Putin’s use of the word genocide was wrong.
Scholz even poked fun at Putin’s fears of NATO’s eastern enlargement given it was not on the agenda any time soon and his lengthy time at the helm of his country.
“I don’t quite know how long the president plans to stay in office,” he said, with a grin towards Putin. “I have a feeling this could be a long time, but not forever.”
Some analysts praised him for also voicing concerns about civil rights issues and meeting with various activists and some critics still complained he had ceded too much to Russia by minimizing the possibility of Ukraine gaining NATO membership.
His more assertive tone though could go some way to restore his credibility as one of the top political players in Europe. French President Emmanuel Macron had taken the lead lately on the Ukraine crisis in Europe with a Moscow visit, albeit with mixed results.