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German ambassador to U.S. on Ukraine tension

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

As Russia sends troops into Ukraine, the U.S. and its European allies have been clear; the consequences for Russia may also cause some pain for people in the West. President Biden put it this way at the White House yesterday.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Defending freedom will have cost for us, as well, and here at home. We need to be honest about that.

SHAPIRO: In Germany, more than half of the natural gas supply comes from Russia. This week, the German government said it will suspend certification of Nord Stream 2, a natural gas pipeline that was set to bring Russian fuel to Germany. And today, the U.S. announced sanctions against the company building the pipeline and its corporate officers.

I asked Germany's ambassador to the U.S., Emily Haber, whether the U.S. coordinated that move with Germany.

EMILY HABER: We were aware this was coming. I should also note that our position with regard to extraterritorial sanctions is well-known. But what is key and what is center stage for the matter is not only our close interaction, but also the shared sense of objective and the shared sense of purpose that the major Russian transgression and aggression requires a response, and that will include Nord Stream 2.

SHAPIRO: Let's talk about what that means for German people because Germany is Russia's biggest gas customer, and Europeans were already facing exorbitant gas and power bills before this decision. What will the costs be for people in Germany?

HABER: Nord Stream 2 has never been operational, so it will not immediately affect the development of the gas prices. Though I should note that the surge in gas prices that we see is mainly due to the fact that Russia has weaponized energy exports and energy contexts in recent times. In all fairness, Germany would probably be the country that would bear the brunt of the costs of sanctions in Europe, simply because we're the biggest economy in Europe and because we are so interconnected.

You quoted the president before, and I might echo that with what my foreign minister has only said this morning, and that is for us, peace and security in Europe have no price tag. So...

SHAPIRO: And yet if there is large public pressure and public discontent among the German people, I wonder how permanent this decision is. Chancellor Olaf Scholz said the pipeline certification is suspended. Could Germany change its mind tomorrow if there is a dramatic public outcry about gas prices?

HABER: I think that is unthinkable for the moment. Putin has changed the geopolitical environment. This, in turn, has changed our course on Nord Stream 2. And it doesn't look as if Putin is going to walk back his violations of international law that triggered our reaction.

This is about something fundamental. And we're in close interaction and conversation with Americans and with other international allies on how to tackle the issue of potential effects on the gas prices. We are determined to work in lockstep to make sure that this can be contained.

SHAPIRO: Before you became Germany's ambassador to the U.S., you worked on Russian affairs for a long time. And so I wonder, when you saw Putin moving troops to Ukraine's border, did you ever believe that diplomacy would work to change his mind about crossing that border?

HABER: Well, I would answer this by asking you a question. Do you think we could have afforded not to test the avenue of diplomacy? I think we had all the responsibility in the world to try to test diplomacy and to make it work.

SHAPIRO: Well, that's sort of what I'm asking. Of course, anyone would be expected to try the avenue of diplomacy, but did you, as a Russian expert, believe that it would work?

HABER: Well, in all fairness, what we've seen was a massive buildup of a military threat over many weeks and months. We've seen a military de facto encirclement of Ukraine, and we've seen Ukrainian sovereignty and territorial integrity, identity and democracy being called into question. And we've seen and heard of a launch of fake information, trying to blur the responsibility for that. And then we've seen how Russia proceeded to openly violate Ukrainian territory integrity by recognizing the breakaway republic. So

I asked myself and I continue to ask myself, why the huge, unprecedented threat environment and military concentration - unprecedented since probably the end of the Second World War - if there wasn't an ultimate goal? And then I always tended to think that, actually, listen to Putin, and listen to what he says or writes. And he's been so clear and outspoken about denying Ukraine its identity, its history. I tended to think that what he said might actually be what he meant.

SHAPIRO: And this week, Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said this is the moment when Ukraine finds out who its real friends and partners are. So if Russia continues to violate Ukrainian borders, perhaps attacking Kyiv, how far will Germany and its allies go to demonstrate that they are what Zelenskyy calls a real friend and partner to Ukraine?

HABER: I think we've proved that over many years. It seems to be one of the best-kept secrets here in Washington that we are the largest donor of civilian and humanitarian assistance to Ukraine, and we've been that for many, many years. We are committed to supporting and to continue to support Ukrainian resilience.

And in this crisis, that's not a vague password. It affects everything from, say, electricity supply to water supplies, et cetera. We are committed, and there's no doubt of that. We are the single largest supporter of the Ukrainian economy and democracy in the world, and I believe at the end of the day, Ukraine knows that.

SHAPIRO: That is Germany's ambassador to the United States, Emily Haber. Ambassador Haber, thank you for your time today.

HABER: Thank you for having me, and have a good day. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.