(Bloomberg) — When Chancellor Olaf Scholz arrives at the White House on Friday, the challenge of how to maintain weapons supplies to Ukraine will be high on the agenda.
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The German leader may come under pressure from President Joe Biden over the struggle to produce enough ammunition for the front lines and the two leaders are likely to discuss ways to cooperate more on stepping up manufacturing. It will be 64-year-old Scholz’s second visit to the White House since taking office in 2021.
Ukrainian forces are facing a fresh Russian offensive as the war enters its second year and the supply of weaponry will be a crucial factor in determining how the fighting plays out.
While the US and Germany already agreed in lockstep to send battle tanks and Patriot missiles to Ukraine earlier this year, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s troops are still waiting for much of that equipment and face a shortage of basic artillery shells.
White House National Security Council spokesman John Kirby on Thursday told reporters that Biden and Scholz are likely to discuss their recent conversations with Zelenskiy, the upcoming NATO summit and relations with China. A senior administration official said the two leaders would meet in the Oval Office for an hour or so, and that they would likely have a significant portion of one-on-one time.
Here are the main issues to watch:
Zelenskiy and his allies have become increasingly outspoken about the shortages of ammunition and Scholz has been trying to secure supplies in countries, including Brazil and Qatar, but with little success. Ukraine is seeking more shells particularly for the tanks supplied by Germany and air defense weapons.
Berlin is exploring joint procurement within the European Union, but the Brussels bureaucracy could slow the process, a German official said. One potential solution would involve moving some of the production to the US where there is more capacity.
Scholz dragged out a decision on whether to send Zelenskiy the main battle tanks he wanted and only agreed once Biden said he would also send American tanks to the Ukrainian forces. Since then, the effort has run into trouble because other European countries are struggling to deliver the tanks they promised.
Government officials would not say whether Scholz would raise the issue in his meeting with Biden, but it’s another major challenge for the allies.
The tanks issue has been complicated by a degree of revisionism over how the January decision came about.
Biden’s National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told ABC News last Sunday that Scholz’s government had only agreed to send Leopard 2 battle tanks to Ukraine under the condition that the US would send Abrams tanks. A day later, German government spokesman Wolfgang Buechner contradicted Sullivan and insisted there had never been such a connection.
Back in January, Scholz insisted that Germany would only supply tanks in coordination with its allies.
The Ukraine-Russia proposal that Beijing set out last month adds an extra layer of complication for Biden and Scholz. The US and its NATO allies have dismissed the plan, which would consolidate Russia’s territorial gains in Ukraine, but there are concerns that it might weaken support for Ukraine in Africa, Asia and Latin America.
The two leaders are keen to avoid any scenario in which China could play a bigger role and end up openly supporting Russia as they seek to further isolate President Vladimir Putin. On Thursday, Scholz warned China not to arm Russia and expressed disappointment that the Beijing government was no longer willing to join in “a clear condemnation of the Russian attack” agreed to by the G-20 leaders in Bali last year.
A senior US official cited Scholz’s comments Thursday as evidence that the US and Germany are aligned on their approach. The topic of China potentially supplying weapons will likely come up, but the US official declined to discuss whether the countries are coordinating on possible sanctions against Beijing.
With the European economy adjusting to the restrictions on Russian energy and other commodities, Scholz and Biden will also discuss the idea of a raw materials club among the US, Europe and possibly other democratic nations such as Japan and Australia, a German official said.
European officials and executives hope that such a deal would put their companies on the same footing as Mexico and Canada — which have a free-trade agreement with the US — when it comes to accessing Biden’s massive program of green subsidies, the official said.
Biden’s message to Scholz will be that the US law benefits not only America and that the Biden administration encourages other countries to enact similar measures in coordination with the US Inflation Reduction Act.
Whatever happens, it won’t get any fanfare.
Scholz is traveling to Washington without the usual press delegation and there is no press conference planned after the meeting. A German government official said that the two leaders want to keep their discussion private this time.
–With assistance from Alberto Nardelli and Jenny Leonard.
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