Macron and Putin table meeting mocked by hosts
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The German Chancellor, who landed in Russia on Tuesday morning to meet President Vladimir Putin in a bid to avert war, decided to get a doctor from the German embassy in Moscow to carry out a coronavirus test onboard the plane that flew him to the high-stakes talks over the crisis in Ukraine.
A source said the German chancellery had offered Russia the opportunity to send someone to observe the procedure.
Mr Scholz’s decision not to take a Russian PCR echoes Mr Macron’s refusal to take one due to security concerns over getting tested by the country’s doctors last week.
A picture of Mr Putin and the French President sitting at opposite ends of a notoriously long table struck the internet as the two leaders discussed Moscow’s conflict with the West.
The 13-feet distance between them was no coincidence, with one source telling Reuters: “We knew very well that meant no handshake and that long table. But we could not accept that they get their hands on the president’s DNA.”
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A second source from Mr Macron’s entourage, who confirmed the president had taken a French PCR test before departure and an antigen test done by his own doctor once in Russia, said: “The Russians told us Putin needed to be kept in a strict health bubble.”
In the morning of Mr Scholz’s and Mr Putin’s meeting, Germany released a statement urging Russia to withdraw troops from the Ukrainian border.
It read: “We believe that it’s clearly Russia’s responsibility to de-escalate the situation.”
Russia’s Interfax news agency on Tuesday cited the country’s defence ministry as saying that some — but not all — of the large-scale drill exercises across the country had concluded.
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Nonetheless, while the move signals a potential shift in Moscow’s tone over the row, the Kremlin’s military build-up remains concerning in the eyes of world leaders.
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said: “The situation is extremely dangerous and could escalate at any time.”
She added in her statement: “The government in Moscow should withdraw its troops and provide full transparency about its actions – in accordance with the principles by which Russia has pledged to abide, not least within the context of the OSCE.”
Speaking ahead of his trip on Sunday, Mr Scholz claimed there was “a very, very serious threat to peace in Europe”.
Yet, critics have described his approach as not making the severity of the crisis justice.
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The chancellor has held firm on Germany’s opposition to sending requested defensive weapons to Kiev.
He did, however, announce a new loan of €150 million (about £125mn) to support the nation in light of a potential invasion.
The most scrutinised of factors is the country’s heavy reliance on Russian gas and its involvement in the Nord Stream 2 project, which has been portrayed as the cause for the government’s soft stance.
Mr Scholz has in several instances avoided giving a clear answer as to what his view on the gas matter was.
Nord Stream 2, owned by Russia’s state-backed energy giant Gazprom, runs from western Siberia to Germany, doubles the capacity of the already-in-use Nord Stream 1 pipeline.
Construction was completed last September, and if regulators give it the green light to operate, it could heat 26 million German homes at an affordable price.
Washington has labelled the pipeline a geopolitical weapon for Russia to undermine energy and national security.
Germany, meanwhile, insists it is only a commercial project.
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme on Tuesday, the EU’s top diplomat Josep Borrell said: “If there is a war between Russia and Ukraine, Nordstream 2 would not become operational.”
Bloc-wide sanctions are agreed by unanimity, and Mr Borrell appears assured he has the backing of all 27 member states.
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