Taoiseach meets an exhausted Scholz as wind of war blowing over Europe

German journalists ignore Martin and press the chancellor to explain just how tough his response will be on Ukraine

Hours after Russian tanks rolled over Ukraine's eastern border the only boots on the ground in Berlin on Tuesday were a military guard of honour for Micheál Martin.

On a blustery morning, with the wind of war blowing over Europe, the Tricolour hung in the chancellery courtyard as the Taoiseach sped into Berlin’s seat of power.

"Hello, how are you?" he asked Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

His German host’s exhausted eyes told their own story: a night of frantic phone diplomacy and a hangover from Russian realpolitik.


In the chancellery courtyard the two introduced each others’ teams and stood to attention for the national anthems, played by a Bundeswehr army band.

Scholz was spared Amhrán na bhFiann’s text – in English: “mid cannons’ roar and rifles’ peal” – but had an undertaker’s demeanour as he glided along in a black dresscoat beside Martin.

Inside the chancellor restated German support for Ireland – and its expectations of London – in its Brexit talks. But his mind was less on the Northern Ireland border 2,000km to the west and more on a new border 2,000km east between Ukraine and what he called the "so-called Donetsk People's Republic".

German journalists ignored Martin and pressed the chancellor to explain just how tough his response would be. No change on Berlin’s weapons ban for Ukraine, Scholz said, before grabbing the political nettle called Nord Stream 2.

This is the second of two undersea gas pipelines initiated by Scholz's political mentor Gerhard Schröder – the ex-chancellor turned Russian lobbyist. Completed last year, the 1,200km pipeline is awaiting a final permit from Germany's federal energy authority to start pumping Russian gas directly to Germany.

For months Scholz insisted the pipeline – controlled by Russian state-owned energy utility Gazprom – was a commercial endeavour, an entirely non-political project. Now only Moscow claims that, and the chancellor has instructed his economics minister to withdraw documents crucial for the permit process.

Mournful wind

In the chancellery atrium a mournful wind blew past the assembled press and towards a wall of former chancellor portraits, stretching back to Konrad Adenauer.

Just 11 weeks in office, Scholz uttered the words no post-war German leader ever wanted to say: “Almost 80 years after the end of the second World War, a war is threatened in Europe. Our task is to prevent such a catastrophe.”

Even with Nord Stream 2 on hold, and regardless of Russia’s plans for Ukraine, Germany is likely to remain one of Moscow’s biggest energy customers.

Scholz conceded that one quarter of German energy is drawn from natural gas, half of which is from Russia, but that his country – and its neighbours – are working hard to diversify their energy mix. "This is a great European task that we have to tackle," he said.

Over lunch – an Arctic char starter and mains of Friesian ox – also known as roast beef – there was no shortage of food or political problems to chew over.

Martin ended his visit with a chastening reminder of the cost of Europe’s last war, unleashed in Berlin on the world. The Taoiseach laid a wreath for the six million murdered Jews of Europe at an austere memorial of concrete pillars adjacent to the Brandenburg Gate.

In the guestbook he wrote of his hope that, by keeping alive the memory of the Shoah, Europe could “avoid such an atrocity ever happening again”.

Memorial director Uwe Neumärker said his colleagues in Ukrainian partner memorials were “terrified” of what lies ahead.

“War is always the same,” he told The Irish Times. “Politicians dream up clever ideas and the civilian population suffers – not to mention the soldiers.”