Olaf Scholz says the West must keep Russia guessing on sanctions

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Saturday rejected the Ukrainian president’s calls to sanction Russia now, saying Moscow should not know “exactly” how the West will react to a possible invasion.

Speaking to CNBC’s Hadley Gamble at the annual Germany Security Conference in Munich, Scholz said Western allies were “well prepared” to sanction Russia – and quickly – if it were to invade Ukraine. But he said such measures should remain a last resort in the hope of finding a peaceful resolution to ongoing tensions.

“It’s better to say we do it then, instead of doing it now, because we want to avoid the situation,” he said, referring to the imposition of potential sanctions on Russia. “We want to go in the direction where peace has a chance.”

Russia has repeatedly denied it was planning an invasion of Ukraine, but several Western officials said this week that the country was actively increasing its military presence on its border.

Scholz did not specify what sanctions Russia could face if it were to invade Ukraine. Rather, he said Moscow should know “approximately” not “exactly” the repercussions it would face.

The Russian government cannot really be sure what we will do.

Olaf Scholz

German Chancellor

This contrasts with other Western leaders who have made specific remarks about how Russia could be hit economically, including by energy sanctions.

“My opinion is that it doesn’t make sense to make them public. It’s good for what we’re waiting to get the Russian government can’t really know exactly what we’re going to do,” he said. .

“They’ll know approximately what we’re talking about, but they won’t know exactly.”

His comments come after Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky reiterated his calls for sanctions now on Saturday, saying the West should end its “appeasement” policy towards Russia.

“We have the right – the right to demand a shift from a policy of appeasement to a policy of securing security and peace,” Zelensky said at the Munich Security Conference.

“There is no ‘this is not my war’ in the 21st century. This is not about war in Ukraine, this is about war in Europe.”

Russia launches ballistic and cruise missiles

In a display of its military prowess, Russia launched ballistic and cruise missiles on Saturday as part of a “planned exercise of strategic deterrent forces”.

President Joe Biden said on Friday that the United States believes Russian President Vladimir Putin could lead an attack on Ukraine “in the coming days.”

“We have reason to believe that Russian forces are planning and intending to attack Ukraine next week, within the next few days,” Biden said Friday in a speech at the White House, noting that such attack would likely target the Ukrainian capital, Kiev.

Servicemen of the Ukrainian Air Assault Forces take part in tactical exercises at a training ground at an undisclosed location in Ukraine, in this photo released on February 18, 2022.

Press Service of the Ukrainian Air Assault Forces | via Reuters

It comes after US intelligence agencies said Moscow had added around 7,000 troops to the Ukrainian border this week, bringing its estimated total military presence to around 150,000. Russian forces have also been stationed in ally Belarus. north of Ukraine.

Earlier this week, the Russian government claimed it had started returning some of its troops to their bases. However, Ukraine’s president and Western officials have urged caution before taking Moscow’s claim at face value.

Ukraine and its Western allies have warned that Russia could create a “false flag” event – in which it mounts a real or simulated attack against its own forces – to create an excuse to invade Ukraine.

— CNBC’s Natasha Turak contributed to this report.

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