Schulz says that “permanent security” in Europe can only be achieved with the help of Russia

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Tuesday welcomed the partial withdrawal of Russian forces from the Ukrainian border, calling it a “good sign” and noting that lasting stability and security in Europe can only be achieved with Russia’s help.

In the first apparent de-escalation in weeks, Moscow announced on Tuesday that some of the more than 100,000 troops and equipment amassed along the Ukrainian border would return to their bases at the end of scheduled exercises. Western leaders accused Moscow of deploying troops ahead of a possible invasion of pro-Western Ukraine, warning that any attack would face severe economic sanctions.

Speaking at a news conference after his talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, Schulz said that Russia has been a critical player in maintaining security in Europe and that Russia should remain a partner in ensuring stability on the continent.

“For Europeans, it is clear that lasting security cannot be achieved against Russia, but only with Russia,” he told reporters.

“Diplomatic possibilities are far from exhausted,” Schulz said. “What we hear now about the withdrawal of some forces is a good sign, and we hope that more will follow,” he said, noting that “it should be possible to find a solution. No matter how difficult and dangerous the situation is, I refuse to say that it is hopeless.”

Nord Stream 2 as leverage Schultz also said he is committed to ensuring gas transit through Ukraine.

“We are committed to ensuring that gas transit in Europe via Ukraine, Belarus, Poland and Nord Stream 1 operates in accordance with the agreements we have concluded. We also want to ensure the peaceful development of Europe,” said Schultz.

Schulz emphasized that while he was intent on ensuring there was no confrontation in Ukraine, if it did, there would be consequences.

The controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which bypasses Ukraine in bringing Russian energy to Germany, has emerged as a sticking point in Berlin’s relations with Washington and Kiev. Many observers in Europe are concerned about Germany’s growing dependence on Russian energy.

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky has warned that Russia will use the pipeline as leverage. “We have certain differences in our assessments” of the energy link between Russia and Germany, Zelensky said after his talks with Kiev’s Scholzin on Monday.

>> Nord Stream 2: The gas pipeline between Russia and Germany becomes a geopolitical lever

Russia has completed the construction of the pipeline, which runs under the Baltic Sea, but German regulators have not yet approved its use.

“Cautious optimism” Moscow has released few details about the troop withdrawal, which in the past few days has been estimated at 130,000 soldiers, and there was no immediate outside confirmation. The threat of a possible invasion has caused one of the worst crises in Russia’s relations with the West since the Cold War.

NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg said in Brussels that there was so far “no sign of de-escalation on the ground” but that there were “reasons for cautious optimism”.

Meanwhile, Ukrainian officials said more evidence is needed.

“If we see a withdrawal, we will believe in de-escalation,” Ukraine’s Interfax news agency quoted Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba as saying.

France also welcomed indications that Russia was withdrawing some troops, but urged Moscow to take more concrete measures.

“Words are good and we are waiting for action. If there is action, it will be better,” Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told parliament.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson said there were “indications of a diplomatic opening” with Russia, but intelligence about a possible invasion “remains not encouraging”.

Russia has long denied planning to invade Ukraine, saying it can train troops on its soil as it sees fit. She has been pushing for a range of security guarantees from the West, including a guarantee that Ukraine will never join NATO.

Putin told reporters that Russia would not be satisfied with talk that the former Soviet republic was not ready to join any time soon and demanded that the issue be resolved now.

As for the war in Europe, do we want it or not? of course not. That is why we have put forward proposals for a negotiation process, the result of which should be an agreement to ensure equal security for all, including our country.”

Recognition of Ukraine’s breakaway regions In a separate move likely to anger Kiev, Russian lawmakers voted on Tuesday to urge Putin to recognize two breakaway regions in eastern Ukraine as “independent and sovereign states”.

This would allow Russia to abandon the Minsk peace plan for eastern Ukraine and possibly move Russian forces — giving Putin a strong hand to play in any future negotiations with Kiev.

The European Union “strongly” condemned the move, saying it violated the Minsk agreements signed by Moscow.

Russia has repeatedly blamed the Ukraine crisis on the West, saying the United States and Western Europe are ignoring Russia’s legitimate security concerns.

The Kremlin insists that NATO must provide reassurances that Ukraine will never be accepted as a member and that it roll back its presence in many Eastern European and former Soviet states.

Russia already controls Crimea, which it captured from Ukraine in 2014, and supports separatist forces that have seized parts of eastern Ukraine in a conflict that has killed more than 14,000 people.

Associated Press

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