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Chancellor Scholz in Brussels for first EU summit

December 16, 2021

New German Chancellor Olaf Scholz is in Brussels to meet his EU counterparts. Russian tension with Ukraine tops the agenda even before a Berlin court said that Moscow had ordered a 2019 murder.

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz speaking to press outside the European Council building in Brussels
Olaf Scholz was inaugurated as Germany's new chancellor last weekImage: Kenzo Tribouillard/AP Photo/picture alliance

Germany's newly inaugurated Chancellor Olaf Scholz met other European Union leaders at his first Brussels summit on Thursday.

Russian antagonism on the Ukraine border dominated the agenda after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy met with Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron, as well as European Council President Charles Michel on Wednesday. Scholz held talks with NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg Thursday.

"We will underscore again that the inviolability of borders is an important basis for peace in Europe, and that together we will do everything that this inviolability endures," Scholz said prior to the summit.

Scholz's participation in the European Council meeting came the day after his inaugural address to the Bundestag and with a number of crises for the EU to confront, including ongoing tensions with Russia and its ally Belarus, as well as the coronavirus pandemic and high energy prices.

Scholz: 'Any violation of territorial integrity will have a price, a high price'

State-sponsored murder in Berlin

Berlin's own tense relations with Moscow reached a peak Wednesday after a court sentenced a Russian national to life imprisonment for the murder of an ethnic Chechen in a park in the German capital in 2019.

Prosecutors had said the man was working on orders from the Russian state security agency FSB.

Germany's new Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock called the point-blank shooting a "murder by state contract" and spoke with both the Russian ambassador to Germany, Sergey Nechayev, and Russia's foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov.

In response to the verdict, Berlin expelled two Russian diplomats. Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Sakharova later said that Berlin's "unfriendly stance" would be met with an "appropriate response."

Speaking ahead of Thursday's summit, Scholz said it had been "completely right that the foreign minister had responded with a clear answer."

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EU to discuss sanctions

The EU was already planning to discuss potential sanctions it could impose, should Russia pursue aggressive actions toward Ukraine.

Zelenskyy on Wednesday called on European leaders to introduce sanctions immediately rather than waiting.

Russia occupied and annexed Crimea — a region of Ukraine that juts into the Black Sea — in 2014, and has reportedly been supporting pro-Russian separatist fighters in the eastern Donbass region ever since.

Moscow is intent on keeping Ukraine from getting too close to the EU and NATO, having repeatedly called for the possibility of accession to be taken off the table.

Both EU and NATO leaders have rejected the demand to rule out potential membership, but also say that Kyiv is still a long way off from joining either organization.

ab/msh (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)