Olaf Scholz

Olaf Scholz on Russia

November 30, 2021
Seth Myers

Olaf Scholz is a German politician from the Social Democratic Party (SPD) who has served as the country’s vice chancellor and finance minister since 2018. Following the SPD’s strong showing in September elections, Mr. Scholz is set to succeed Chancellor Angela Merkel, who is stepping down after 16 years in office. (The only remaining hurdle is a vote in the Bundestag, expected in early December.) In relations with Russia Mr. Scholz has endorsed a new “European Ostpolitik,” or eastern policy, a reference to former SPD chancellors Willy Brandt and Helmut Schmidt’s attempts to ease relations with the Soviet Union through greater dialogue and diplomatic exchange. Given Germany’s unique position as both a major Russian trade partner and a key U.S. ally in Europe, which has nonetheless broken with Washington on some policies related to Moscow, Mr. Scholz’s views on Russia should be of interest to those who follow developments there. The compilation below is part of Russia Matters’ “Competing Views” series, where we share prominent policy shapers’ takes on Russia and its relations with the rest of the world.

Though Mr. Scholz and Ms. Merkel do not belong to the same political party, Mr. Scholz—who previously served as mayor of Hamburg (2011-2018) and as the deputy chief of the SPD (2009-2019)—cast himself on the campaign trail as Ms. Merkel’s natural successor. He is expected to govern in a coalition government with the Green Party and the Free Democratic Party, which could be installed after the Bundestag vote. Despite his calls for a new Ostpolitik, a Scholz-led government would likely continue to pursue many of Ms. Merkel’s key foreign policy objectives. Analyst Liana Fix has described what the new coalition’s policies may mean vis-à-vis Russia and its leverage in Europe.

The quotes below are divided into categories similar to those in Russia Matters’ news and analysis digests, which reflect the most pertinent topic areas for U.S.-Russian relations broadly and for drivers of the two countries’ policies toward one another. (For the sake of consistency, the priorities for the bilateral agenda below are listed in the same order as they appear in the digests, not in order of importance for the German-Russian dyad.)

Bulleted text that is not italicized, bracketed or otherwise marked is a direct quote from Mr. Scholz. All sections may be updated at a later time.


I. German and Russian priorities for the bilateral agenda:


  • Asked about the possibility of withdrawing from NATO’s nuclear sharing agreement: We are a member of NATO. We will therefore approach all necessary decisions that concern NATO partners and the security of our Eastern European neighbors in conjunction with all other NATO partners. No one country can proceed unilaterally. Everyone in the SPD sees it this way. (Die Welt am Sonntag, 09.12.21)

Arms control:

  • If the United States and Russia decide to abandon a multilateral perspective as relates to their foreign and security policies in favor of pursuing national self-interest, then the EU must be a countervailing advocate for multilateralism. That would involve a defined and strict arms control policy. Of this I am certain: The EU will have to commit to ensuring the continued legitimacy of the INF Treaty, which has very successfully limited the production of mid-range missiles for more than 30 years. The treaty is central to peace in Europe and to the balance of armaments globally. (Speech at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin, 11.28.18)
  • We need a corridor in which we can come to a consensus with our European partners regarding armament projects. Decisions are ultimately for each state to make and to be responsible for individually. Perhaps a kind of “Wise Persons Group”1 could develop comments related to armament export decisions on a project-specific basis… Rolf Mützenich [chairman of the SPD parliamentary group since June 2019] is also of the opinion that no one country in our alliances should act unilaterally. And he is also interested in seeking new opportunities for nuclear disarmament in line with the U.S. and the new Biden administration. (Die Welt am Sonntag, 09.12.21)


  • In the future, we will have to continue carrying out military actions in order to combat terrorist organizations. However, a drawn-out deployment such as that in Afghanistan will remain an exception. After 20 years of reconstruction, we must now declare that the government left its country high and dry, and that an army of 300,000 people almost did not fight to defend its people. That is depressing. (Die Neue Westfälische Zeitung, 08.22.21)
  • Millions of people, many of them Muslims, are fleeing from religious terrorism. In the so-called Islamic State, Germany and Russia have a common enemy. (15th Petersburg Dialogue, 07.14.16)

Great Power rivalry:

  • The bipolarity between the U.S. and Russia, which for so long shaped the international stage, the great conflict between the two hegemons that supposedly ordered the world, will not return. This is still the case even if some voices all too quickly replace Russia with China and attempt to replace what was systemic competition with economic competition. There is no returning to the past. The emerging countries of Asia, Latin America and conceivably of Africa are claiming—quite rightly—their place at the table of world politics and will continue to do so. The world will be a multipolar one with many influential countries, in which we Europeans will soon represent barely 6% of the world population. This is the starting point when we talk about the sovereignty of Europe. (Die Zeit, 02.02.21)
  • NATO will still be of the utmost importance for us in the future. We need a close relationship with the United States. What connects us with the United States is the fellowship of democracies, in which the rule of law and individual liberties play decisive roles. In the contemporary world, we will only be able to protect democracy together. Like the U.S. president said: Europe and the United States are a joint power. Jointly, we will preserve democracy and freedom against authoritarian powers … with all of the differences that arise between friends. (Die Welt am Sonntag, 09.12.21)
  • In times of hybrid threats … our security interests must still be defended, including in cyberspace and in internationally mandated operations such as those in the Sahel. The Bundeswehr must be positioned, both organizationally and financially, so that it can achieve this task. That is even more true for NATO; we generally need to orient our defense policy in a more European direction. In the medium term, we need closer collaboration and greater integration within the EU. A European army must be the goal. (Interview with the German Armed Forces Association, 08.08.21)
  • Two weeks ago, Joe Biden was sworn in as U.S. president. So begins a new era of the Transatlantic relationship. A democrat, in the full meaning of the word, once again sits in the Oval Office; a democrat, who with 17 executive orders on his first day in office, is committed to multilateralism. And still, the pictures from Jan. 6, the pictures of the storming of the U.S. Capitol, are etched deeply in our memories. We were shocked by the unsettling of the oldest democracy in the world. And we have not forgotten the pictures [of violent protestors] from August of last year at the Reichstag… Of all the offers that President Biden has made, this is perhaps the most important: an alliance of democracies. We, as Europeans, should grasp the outstretched hand and jointly develop answers to the challenges of disinformation, fake news and authoritarian undercurrents in our countries. (Die Zeit, 02.02.21)
  • NATO and Russia must work more closely together and make peace in Europe a joint concern. The NATO-Russia Founding Act of 1997 is the [normative and political] foundation for dialogue with Russia: NATO and the Russian Federation have therein recognized each other as partners for peace. Together and on equal terms, it also imparts an obligation to guarantee and maintain a peaceful Europe. Defense readiness and a willingness to cooperate are two sides of the same coin. Therefore, NATO and Russia must again work more closely together. … I very much welcome that on Wednesday [July 13, 2016], after a long hiatus, there was a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council… The revival of the NATO-Russia Council is important; it must hold sessions regularly. Institutionalized dialogue with Russia, including on military questions, is essential to the stability of the security architecture in Europe. (15th Petersburg Dialogue, 07.14.16)

China-Russia: Allied or aligned?

  • The most important message that President Biden is sending is that he understands there is something in the West that binds us together as democracies… [A]s we look out upon the world, at China, at Russia, perhaps at other countries in the coming decades, it is essential that we stick together and insist on the importance of democracy as a Transatlantic alliance. (ARD, 06.26.21)
  • Those that are around us are by no means all with us. Russia, say, could envision that it’s not necessary to negotiate with the EU, but rather with Germany, France, England, Italy, Spain and so on… China would also be open to that… We must be clear: That cannot be. They must accept the EU and we must work together to that end. (Speech to the German Council on Foreign Relations, 06.28.21)
  • Asked about turning away from China: That would not be wise. The German economy derives its success from exporting machines all over the world and importing many goods. The German economy would experience heavy losses if we decoupled ourselves from the world market. Our task is to bring about a system of common security—by reviving what was termed Entspannungspolitik [policy of détente] in the 1970s under Willy Brandt and Helmut Schmidt. At the same time, we must make clear that we, as democracies, stand together and that human rights are not merely a whim of the West but something that concerns all of humanity. Only a strong, sovereign Europe will be able to manage this task. (Stuttgarter Zeitung, 06.30.21)

Conflict in Syria:

  • The Russian government under President Vladimir Putin has never really questioned its support for the Assad regime, which has meant that international initiatives within the United Nations have been guaranteed to fail… [T]here is not much reason to be optimistic about a speedy improvement to the situation in Syria. ("Hoffnungsland," pp. 134-135, 2017)
  • In light of the many current global challenges, we must again find more ways to negotiate together. The Middle East is in ruins. In Syria and in Iraq, a war has been ignited that is being fought with modern weaponry but that uncannily resembles the 30 Years War in Germany. We should not forget that in Syria most people are fleeing from the bombs of their own government. We still must develop a common understanding of the state of the collaboration that has already begun. (15th Petersburg Dialogue, 07.14.16)

Climate change:

  • On climate discussions at G20 and COP26: We are on the right path… [T]hese conversations have shown me that many countries understand it would be worthwhile to strengthen international climate cooperation through a “Climate Club” [Klimaclub]… [T]he agreement that has been reached between the EU and the U.S. allows for the creation of such a mechanism. (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 11.06.21)
  • Scholz on the meaning of a “Climate Club”: Climate efforts are not only taking place in Germany. Rather, such efforts are also occurring elsewhere across Europe and in various other countries around the world. For such efforts to really work—which is crucially important given that the issue of climate is a global concern—we need to make formal arrangements to work together. What I suggest is a “Climate Club” [Klimaclub]. This would allow all those who want to take part to come together, formulate the same goals and thereby ensure collectively that a tremendous new industrial revolution comes to be. (Press Release from the Federal Ministry of Finance, 06.05.21)
  • Again on climate talks at G20: I am firmly convinced that you can see that the world is heading in the right direction. We are still far from reaching our goals, so it’s important that we move quickly. What must occur now is the concrete implementation of measures rather than the formulation of further targets. Targets will be viewed differently by different countries… but if we all generally are aiming at becoming climate neutral by the middle of this century, then that is certainly progress that you could not have counted on just a couple of years ago. This fact should not be underappreciated. At the same time, however, we should not underestimate the task that lies ahead of us in ensuring that our targets do not merely remain targets. (Die Welt, 10.31.21)

Cyber security:

  • Germany’s digital future is not as bright as we would wish. Twelve billion Euro will therefore be made available from public funds to develop better digital infrastructure. (Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland, 09.02.21)

Energy exports from CIS:

  • We have always considered Nord Stream 2 to be an economic project that was brought about by private sector companies and that can make a small contribution to energy security in Germany. And therefore, this nearly finished pipeline is something that should be completed. It is clear that we also must follow through on our obligation to ensure that the relationship between the U.S. and Europe, the relationship between Germany and the U.S. and the relationship between the EU and Eastern Europe all continue to function effectively… [T]here is the false impression in the U.S. that we will become quite dependent on Russian gas. If you consider the full energy production mix in Germany, however, this is not correct. Seeking to correct this faulty perception [in the U.S.] is something that the federal government has tried to do. (WDR, 05.20.21)
  • We are having to make significant investments at the moment because we are aiming to eventually become reliant upon renewables. Until then, we will have to continue utilizing gas. (Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland, 11.12.21)
  • For me, it is indisputable that we need gas and that we will continue to need gas for some time for the flexibility of the energy network. This is because a power generation system that is based on solar energy and wind energy must remain stable and be able to produce energy 24/7. This will remain the case until the system is organized very differently. Until it is possible to effectively store and maintain hydrogen energy, we will continue to need gas. (Chancellor Candidate Debate on Energy Policy, 6.17.21)
  • There is enough gas and oil coming to Germany from different sources. And there are a lot of people offering to send gas to Germany, most recently the U.S. Everyone should know we have resources not only from Russia, but also from Sweden and Norway, for example. (Globes, 10.03.18)
  • See also “Ukraine” in Section III below.

German-Russian economic ties (beyond energy):

  • The formerly divided Germany knows this particularly well: Stable peace and long-term security in Europe is only possible with—and not against—Russia. We may never stop employing our political power in pursuit of peaceful cooperation between the peoples of the European continent. No one can afford a new Cold War: not the European Union, not Russia, not the U.S.… Russia is Germany’s largest and most important neighbor and Russia is a great power in international politics. A good, neighborly relationship is in the clear interests of citizens of both our countries. (15th Petersburg Dialogue, 07.14.16)

German-Russian relations in general:

  • The result of Entspannungspolitik [policy of détente] was an agreement about the invulnerability of borders. It is exactly this that Russia threw into question by annexing Crimea and stoking unrest in Ukraine. Nevertheless, we need a new, this time European Ostpolitik [eastern policy] that takes Russia’s interests into account. (Stuttgarter Zeitung, 06.30.21)
  • If things are to change, there must be bridges and channels for dialogue in order to return to a better relationship… We have sanctions, but breaking off diplomatic relations or anything like that would be wrong. (Al Jazeera, 09.08.21)
  • Europe is political; Europe must solve political questions like, for example, the question of… how we develop a new European Ostpolitik that makes it possible for us on the continent to develop an understanding of collective security, particularly with Russia. (Bundestag Debate re: Chancellor Merkel’s Statement to the European Council, 06.24.21)
  • The relationship with Russia is one reason for a common European foreign policy; we need a European Ostpolitik. Moscow must accept that the European Union as a whole is its negotiating party, and not individual EU countries. Our goal must be to not threaten each other on the continent. A prerequisite to this end is for the laws and the permanence of borders to be accepted by all. Russian politics must take this step. (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 03.27.21)
  • If you fear the open societies of the West and of the EU because you believe that they can spread like a virus, then we cannot help you. (Karenina, 07.06.21)


II. Russia’s domestic policies

Domestic politics, economy and energy:

  • Putin is someone who bears responsibility for the fact that the lives of many people in Russia are in grave danger. I believe it is therefore very important to make clear that a Russia governed by law and order would be preferable. That is, however, not the case; it is not a country in which one can feel safe if one does not agree with those who are in power… It is important to me that the citizens of Russia have the option to fight for democracy and the rule of law in their own country. (Late Night Berlin, 09.14.21)
  • Resentments, chauvinism and an affinity for authoritarian perspectives are gaining a new footing in the world. Their proponents deny the fact that every norm, every agreement and every convention in modern society requires justification and the acceptance of arguments. They instead pretend that any and every uncertainty makes an argument potentially valid… That may well explain why the AfD [Alternative for Germany Party] and other right-wing populist parties find so much to like in Vladimir Putin’s Russia. They recognize one another. ("Hoffnungsland," p. 295, 2017).
  • In contemporary Russia you are able to study how the inclination toward opening up remains too weak to prevail against the authoritarian, closed off nature of the country. (“Hoffnungsland,” p. 277, 2017)
  • An open society is not an infectious disease that one must defend oneself against. Many Russian debates that speak of Western decadence and the decay of Western values and traditions sound that way to me. One wishes for a bit more … can I say … calmness. I consider calmness, and with it self-confidence in the best sense of the word, to be appropriate in, if I may give this advice, the Russian state’s dealings with Russian NGOs that have critical opinions. There is a beautiful saying from Beaumarchais: Without the freedom of critique, praise is without value. Calmness would also be appropriate in dealings with the homosexual minority in Russia. (15th Petersburg Dialogue, 07.14.16)
  • Of course, we now must consider how to proceed. And here, I believe, that the Britons’ choice [of Brexit] is also what we can see in the new directions of American politics, which is also what we can see in the dangers of the Russian president and Russian state (as in Turkey), and what we see in the armed conflicts in the Middle East. They are all a sign of how we must come together in more effective ways. (Address to the Citizens of Hamburg: Europe Instead of Nationalism, 03.29.17)

Defense and aerospace:

  • No major comments.

Emergencies, security, law-enforcement and justice:

  • Asked about the poisoning of Alexei Navalny: His sudden illness is concerning and everything should be done to save him. If necessary, he should be offered treatment in Germany. As democrats, we do not accept endangering the lives of opposition politicians. (Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger, 08.24.20)
  • Speaking again about Navalny: This man was wronged. An attempted murder was committed against him and he must be protected by the state, not incarcerated. (Greenpeace Magazin, 01.18.21)


III. Russia’s relations with other countries

Russia’s general foreign policy and relations with EU as well as with individual “far abroad” countries other than Germany:

  • On the prospect of meeting with Putin at the European level: If things are to change, then there must be established bridges and lines of communication in order to get back to a better relationship… We would have a lot of different things to say and would also have to speak truthfully and clearly … but that is no reason to not speak at all. It is strange when the simple desire to better understand one another is discredited in so many debates about Russia. (Speech to the German Council on Foreign Relations, 6.28.21)
  • On recent developments at the Belarus-Poland border: It is obvious that all countries have a responsibility to ensure that the inhumane herding of people comes to an end. We will do so in solidarity with Poland—as we should—and it goes without saying that the Russian government must also feel responsible for ensuring that Lukashenko does not continue to behave in this way. (Deutsche Welle, 11.11.21)
  • Germany will promote a new Ostpolitik [eastern policy] together with the European Union. We want to convince our neighbors, including Russia, to respect the European process of integration. We cannot tolerate a return to the power politics of the 18th and 19th centuries. Germany and the European Union must get to a world with multiple centers of power in the West and the East, so that it is law rather than power that dictates cooperation. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe, a legacy of Brandt and Schmidt’s Ostpolitik, still today represents these ideas. The multilateralism that is necessary today builds upon the Ostpolitik of Brandt and his unifying gesture 50 years ago. (Rheinische Post, 12.08.20)
  • There is much uncertainty surrounding the future conduct of the Russian Federation under Vladimir Putin, who does not want to accept European integration as a fact, who seems to fear the contagiousness of liberal democracies and open societies, and who as of late has used his military as a source of irritation, particularly for Northern Europe and the Baltic States. (“Hoffnungsland, p. 46, 2017)
  • Germany is part of the European Union. The German-Russian relationship is therefore also a European-Russian relationship. The relations between our countries and between Russia and the European Union are closely related to each other. I do not consider any situation plausible in which Russia maintains good relations with Germany and, at the same time, poor relations with the full European Union. (15th Petersburg Dialogue, 07.14.16)


  • Mr. Putin no doubt has more than just mere economic considerations as relates to Nord Stream 2, but we have purely economic considerations. It is nearly finished, and there must be clarity that we will continue what we have begun… namely, guaranteeing security for Ukraine. The principle must also be applied to the future: Interfering in the transit of gas and/or the security of Ukraine has consequences for the potential transit of gas through the finished pipeline. (ARD, 06.26.21, Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland, 06.26.21)
  • With the illegal annexation of Crimea and the destabilization of Ukraine, Russia has violated the foundational principle that is the invulnerability of borders. The violation of the national sovereignty of a member of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe is at odds with the commonly agreed upon principles. Never before, since the signing of the Helsinki Accords more than 40 years ago, has this occurred. The violation of the territorial integrity of a neighboring state has shattered the trust of the states on the European continent that these principles are unbreakable. Memories of prior times of political confrontation, misunderstanding and escalation now inform many assessments of the situation… Solving the conflict in Ukraine is of central importance to the security architecture in Europe. (15th Petersburg Dialogue, 07.14.16)

Russia's other post-Soviet/post-Socialist Camp neighbors:

  • The security architecture of Europe cannot be thought of or understood without the European Union. Since the fall of the Iron Curtain, the EU has expanded to include multiple countries that previously were part of the Warsaw Treaty: countries that have almost always understood themselves as part of Europe and therefore are virtually also members of the European Union. That applies, too, for the countries of the Western Balkans, which are not coincidentally pursuing the prospect of EU membership. (15th Petersburg Dialogue, 07.14.16)
  • On Alexander Lukashenko: He is a nasty dictator. I believe that anyone who treats his own people in this manner has entirely lost legitimacy to govern. Lukashenko no longer has the support of a majority of his people and if things went according to democratic rules, he would no longer be in power. (Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, 08.17.20)
  • On the grounding of the Ryan Air flight in Minsk: Moscow may not ignore this egregious act of piracy… [Putin] must use all of his power in order to bring about the immediate release of Roman Protasevich and his partner, Sofia Sapega. (Der Spiegel, 05.28.21)

IV. Quoteworthy

  • Increasingly, foreign policy will have to be climate policy. The need for coordinated action to reduce overall emissions is only one of the channels connecting climate change and foreign policy. We need to consider the link between … water scarcity and the potential for international conflicts. We all know that climate change poses a global challenge, and so in the fight against it we will need international cooperation and strong international institutions. (Speech to the Council on Foreign Relations, 10.18.19)


  1. In 2019, a “High-Level Group of Wise Persons” produced a report on Europe’s institutional approach to financing development projects; currently, a new Wise Persons Group is working on a report about the EU Customs Union.

Seth Myers

Seth Myers is a Master in Public Policy student at Harvard Kennedy School concentrating in International and Global Affairs. Prior to coming to HKS, Seth was a Fulbright English Teaching Assistant to Germany and a German Academic Exchange Service scholar.

Photo by Olaf Kosinsky shared under a Creative Commons license.

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