There will be no state dinners, no press entourage and little fanfare. On a two-day visit to Washington to see President Biden, Germany’s chancellor, Olaf Scholz, wants to get straight to business. The question many in Berlin are asking is what that business is.
“What is the purpose of your trip to Washington today? Why are you traveling there? You should have actually explained that here,” Friedrich Merz, the leader of Germany’s main opposition party, the Christian Democrats, said to Mr. Scholz in a speech at the German Parliament on Thursday.
The chancellor’s press office published a one-line statement announcing the visit to Washington in advance of the trip: The two leaders will discuss the Russian invasion of Ukraine one year on, and support for Kyiv.
The quiet nature of the visit — with no traveling press invited, and no news conferences, and not even an outline of his plans in his speech to German Parliament before his journey — has led some within Berlin’s foreign policy circles to wonder whether it is a reflection of a growing sense of urgency, on both sides of the Atlantic, to find a new road map for ending the conflict in Ukraine.
“I think we are at a difficult moment, because the question about the endgame is becoming louder, bigger and more important in the U.S., but also in Europe,” said Ulrich Speck, a German foreign policy analyst. “So I think it is one year on and looking back, it’s also looking forward, and to the question: How will this end?”
Mr. Scholz’s representatives say the muted nature of the trip is an “exception” but have stressed that it is not a reflection of any grave situation, merely the “work focus” of the visit.
Speculation has been growing in Europe and Washington that despite vocal public statements that they would back Kyiv “as long as necessary,” as Mr. Scholz has put it, some Western leaders worry how long a strong, unified front can last.
European leaders are fretting over how support for Ukraine will fare during a U.S. presidential election next year, with parts of the Republican Party skeptical of military support for Kyiv. The White House said on Thursday that it would announce more military aid to Ukraine on Friday.
Nearly all Western leaders have concerns over whether their populations may tire of sustained and costly backing of Ukraine, especially as the war exposes many shortcomings in their own countries — including military preparedness and energy supplies.
In Berlin, a protest over military backing for Ukraine last Saturday drew 13,000 people, the police said — underscoring that a notable portion of Germany’s population remains leery of Western involvement in the war.
Trying to balance between that domestic wariness and European allies’ calls for bolder military support for Ukraine from Germany, Mr. Scholz gave a measured statement reaffirming support for Ukraine before setting off for Washington.
“The majority of citizens want our country to continue to stand by Ukraine,” he said. “And to do so as we have since the beginning of the war: decisively, in a balanced way, closely coordinated with our friends and partners.”