Germany Sees End in Sight for Putin’s “Imperialism” in Russia

(Bloomberg) -- German Chancellor Olaf Scholz hinted that the days of President Vladimir Putin’s “imperialism” are numbered in a show of support for Ukraine ahead of a much-anticipated push to repel Russian invaders.

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“At some point Russia’s war against Ukraine will end,” Scholz said in a speech at a rare summit of the Council of Europe in Reykjavik. The German leader was speaking days after his government announced a record package of military aid for the government in Kyiv worth nearly $3 billion.

“And one thing is certain: it will not end with a victory for Putin’s imperialism,” Scholz told delegates during the gathering’s opening ceremony. “Because we will continue to support Ukraine until a just peace is achieved.”

Scholz’s comments fell short of an outright call for regime change, a controversial term especially after US President Joe Biden made a diplomatic misstep one month into the war by saying publicly about Putin: “For God’s sake, this man cannot remain in power.”

Biden had to walk those comments back and the reality on the ground in Ukraine has since pointed to a protracted conflict with the risk of international attention drifting elsewhere.

What makes Scholz’s comments significant is their timing. They coincide with a potential Ukrainian counteroffensive and come a month after French President Emmanuel Macron got into hot water during a visit to China by openly encouraging Xi Jinping to “reason” with Russia. That bit of diplomatic freelancing, which took place without consultation with allies, also backfired.

Scholz, who is known for his cautious approach, leads a country with a complicated relationship with Russia, in part due to the legacy of the former communist East Germany — essentially a vassal state of the Soviet Union.

That caution has at times attracted sharp criticism from both western allies and Ukraine, who complained that key decisions on supplying weapons sometimes took too long.

Former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, like Scholz a Social Democrat, deepened ties to Moscow around the turn of the century — launching the controversial Nord Stream gas pipeline linking Russia directly with Germany and bypassing transit countries in eastern Europe including Ukraine.

While Schroeder called Putin his personal friend and a “flawless democrat,” his successor, Angela Merkel, cultivated a more distant, pragmatic relationship with the Kremlin chief.

Yet despite Russia’s seizure of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula in 2014, Merkel pushed ahead with a second Nord Stream pipeline, increasing Germany’s reliance on Russian gas even further and tainting her legacy.

The Council of Europe — a group of 46 nations founded in 1949 to promote democracy and human rights — is attempting a reset following the full-scale invasion of Ukraine by Kremlin forces last year. It expelled Russia and suspended all relations with Belarus, which wasn’t a member, due to its active support for the war.

Headquartered in Strasbourg, France, its structure incorporates the European Court of Human Rights and its members include all 27 European Union nations plus countries like Turkey, the UK and Ukraine.

The summit in the Icelandic capital is the first meeting of the Council of Europe’s leaders in nearly 20 years as it seeks a re-orientation following Russia’s ejection, 26 years after it joined in 1996.

In his speech in Reykjavik, Scholz said the Council will demand “accountability for the enormous damage that Russia is inflicting on Ukraine day by day.”

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy address the summit via video link after Russia launched a major attack earlier Tuesday: “This brings closer the creation of a full-fledged compensation mechanism and will show the world that aggression is not worth even thinking about.”

(Recasts after end of summit opening ceremony)

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