BERLIN — German Chancellor Olaf Scholz sparked controversy Tuesday by saying that he always knew Russian President Vladimir Putin was going to use energy as a weapon.
The statement triggered criticism given Scholz’s previous endorsement of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline.
Speaking at the 13th German Mechanical Engineering Summit in Berlin, Scholz said that Putin was using energy “also as a weapon,” and added: “I was always sure that he would do that.”
Scholz went on to say that this was why he immediately, on arrival in office in December last year, urged government services to look into the possibility of Russia stopping gas supplies to Germany. “That was at a time when most people did not think it was likely, but I thought it was possible,” he said, arguing this had allowed his government to look for alternative supplies at an early stage.
However, Scholz’s words contrast with his public defense of gas flows from Russia, as well as the controversial Nord Stream 2 Russia-to-Germany pipeline.
At his first EU summit as chancellor in mid-December last year, Scholz brushed off criticism of the political implications of Nord Stream 2 by saying the pipeline was a “private-economy project.” And in the following two months, Scholz sparked controversy by refusing to openly say that Berlin would scrap the pipeline if Russia invaded Ukraine — before he ultimately did so just two days before Russia launched its full-scale assault.
“As recently as December, Olaf Scholz said Nord Stream 2 was a purely private-sector project. Now to discover his conscience and position seems strange,” said Roderich Kiesewetter, a lawmaker from the center-right Christian Democratic Union (CDU), the main opposition party.
Scholz also served in Angela Merkel’s government for four years as vice chancellor and finance minister, a position from which he once argued that it was “not accurate” that Germany was becoming dependent on Russian gas.
Moscow has long supplied Germany with gas via the Nord Stream pipeline, but Russia reduced those deliveries over the summer before fully halting supplies in early September.