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Germany’s Scholz Meets Putin in Moscow

The German chancellor’s visit comes as Russia appeared to present its own de-escalation options.

By , the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz leaves after a joint press conference with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz leaves after a joint press conference with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz leaves after a joint press conference with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv on Feb. 14. SERGEI SUPINSKY/AFP via Getty Images

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: German Chancellor Olaf Scholz visits Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett holds talks with Bahrain’s crown prince, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invokes emergency powers amid truck protests.

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Scholz Meets Putin 

Here is today’s Foreign Policy brief: German Chancellor Olaf Scholz visits Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett holds talks with Bahrain’s crown prince, and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invokes emergency powers amid truck protests.

If you would like to receive Morning Brief in your inbox every weekday, please sign up here.


Scholz Meets Putin 

Olaf Scholz becomes the latest Western leader to come face to face with Vladimir Putin on Tuesday as he heads to Moscow. Scholz’s meeting comes a day after he met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv, telling reporters that Ukraine’s prospective NATO membership was not on the agenda.

The meeting also comes as Russia appeared to offer its own off-ramps as senior officials met with Putin on Monday.

In a video released on Monday by Russian media, Putin is seen asking Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov whether there is a chance to reach an agreement with the West or whether Western officials were stalling for time. “There is always a chance,” Lavrov replied, adding that “our possibilities are far from being exhausted. Of course, they should not continue indefinitely, but at this stage I would suggest that they be continued and increased.”

A separate meeting with Defense Minister Sergei Shoigu appeared to give Russia further options for de-escalation. Shoigu told Putin that “large-scale exercises,” including in the Western military district, were either coming to an end or would be completed in the “near future.”

Shoigu did not specify whether those exercises referred to the Allied Resolve joint drills in Belarus, but since the Western military district refers only to Russian territory—and includes the areas where Russian troops have built up near Ukraine—it’s possible Shoigu’s ambiguity was purposeful.

Olga Oliker, the program director for Russia and Central Asia at the International Crisis Group, told Foreign Policy that even though the Shoigu and Lavrov meetings were tightly scripted, Russian intentions are still unclear. What is clear is that it’s unlikely Russia would begin removing forces without winning some sort of concession first. “There’s a certain logic if you’re Russia to keeping the pressure on and seeing what you can get,” Oliker said.

Duma deliberations. While Putin and Scholz meet, Russia’s parliament is expected to consider two bills that would recognize the breakaway regions in the eastern Ukrainian provinces of Donetsk and Luhansk as independent. One bill put forward by the Communist Party would fast-track a decision straight to Putin, while the bill put forward by the Putin-allied United Russia party calls for the decision to be considered first by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and other agencies. The latter move keeps the issue in play but effectively on ice.

OSCE meetings. There’s a moment for multilateral diplomacy, too, as the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) holds a meeting on Russia’s military buildup on Ukraine’s request. It’s the right move for Ukraine, though it should have been made a “long time ago,” James Gilmore, a former U.S. ambassador to the OSCE under President Donald Trump, told Foreign Policy.

Polish Foreign Minister Zbigniew Rau will also be in Moscow on Tuesday in his capacity as OSCE chair to meet with Lavrov. With a new global order emerging, Gilmore said Moscow needed a reminder of the foundational principles of the 1975 Helsinki Accords, with their focus on sovereignty and noninterference. Gilmore compares the accords to the U.S. Constitution—a document that opposing sides can both draw from. “The OSCE going to Moscow is a good thing to do because it reasserts that framework and basically says to Putin, ‘What are you doing?’” Gilmore said.


What We’re Following Today 

Bennett in Bahrain. Bahraini Crown Prince and Prime Minister Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa is expected to host Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett on Tuesday for talks in Manama as Bennett continues a historic visit—the first by an Israeli leader. Bennett’s visit to Bahrain comes as Israel seeks deeper ties with Gulf nations and follows a trip Bennett made to the United Arab Emirates in December.

Trudeau invokes emergency powers. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau invoked rarely used emergency powers on Monday to quell protests that have disrupted the capital, Ottawa, for the past two weeks and blocked traffic and vital trade at the busiest border crossing to the United States.

The powers, which require parliamentary approval, temporarily impose travel and public assembly restrictions and allow federal support for local police. Trudeau has called his invocation of the Emergencies Act a “last resort” and once again ruled out deploying the military against the protesters.


Keep an Eye On

Iran talks. Iranian Foreign Minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian said Iran was “in a hurry” to conclude a deal in Vienna to return to the 2015 nuclear agreement and told Western powers to stop “playing with time” in a press conference on Monday. He may get his wish, as Reuters quoted Iranian and Western officials who both said a new deal could be struck as soon as early March.

Afghanistan’s central bank funds. Former Afghan President Hamid Karzai on Monday joined the chorus of criticism against a U.S. decision to withhold half of the $7.1 billion in Afghan central bank funds and set it aside for 9/11 victim lawsuits. Karzai called the move an “atrocity against Afghan people” and called for U.S. courts to reverse the decision.


Odds and Ends 

Paris will soon crack down on loud motorists with the help of speed-camera-like noise radars, designed to identify and ticket offending drivers who rev and roar their way through the city. Its first noise radars were installed on Monday in the 17th and 20th arrondissements, with adoption citywide possible should the trial show promising results.

Paris Deputy Mayor Dan Lert said the experiment would help ameliorate Paris’s noise pollution problem, which he said knocks eight months off the average Parisian’s live expectancy. No fines will be issued while the first trial runs, but Lert envisages a 135 euro ($150) spot penalty for offenders when the trial enters its second phase in the spring of 2023.

Colm Quinn is the newsletter writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @colmfquinn

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