Germany’s ambassador to the U.S. says Russian forces present a ‘massive threat’

At the three-day security conference that began Friday in Munich, U.S. and NATO leaders aimed to further unify western nations in their efforts to combat Russian aggression. Emily Haber, the German ambassador to the United States, joins Nick Schifrin to discuss the crisis in Ukraine.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    At the three-day security conference that began in Munich today, U.S. and NATO leaders aimed to further unify Western nations, in their efforts to combat Russian aggression against Ukraine.

    Nick Schifrin has more now on the European response with a key European diplomat.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And joining me now is Germany's ambassador to Washington, Emily Haber.

    Ambassador Haber, welcome to the "NewsHour."

    Earlier, we heard President Biden said that he believes Putin has decided to invade. Senior NATO officials are telling me they fear an invasion could come tomorrow.

    Do you agree?

    Emily Haber, German Ambassador to the United States: We have been briefed and informed and been sharing information among allies within NATO, with the United States throughout these past weeks.

    There's no day when we don't exchange information about the latest knowledge and the latest assessments. So, given the monumental military buildup around Ukraine, which is the biggest concentration of military forces since the end of the Cold War, we have severe grounds for worrying about a massive threat.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    The pretext, of course, is what many people here have been talking about.

    We showed earlier what separatists in Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine, an area that they control, called a car bomb in the Capitol of Donetsk. Are we in the middle of a Russian (AUDIO GAP) and if it's a false flag, is that what is going to precede some kind of military action?

  • Emily Haber:

    It is a possibility, but it's difficult at this stage to pinpoint exactly what sort of pretext would be used.

    And then I would also point your attention to the fact that, even though there is a wide-open gap between what Russia claims it wants, diplomacy, and what it actually does on the ground — and that is concentrating military forces — that the door to diplomacy hasn't entirely been closed.

    We have every responsibility to pursue the diplomatic avenue. But, obviously, it takes two to tango. For the moment, there is still the upcoming meeting, if it then happens, between the secretary of state and the Russian foreign minister. There is the NATO-Russia Council, for which we have suggested a meeting. There is the OSCE track. There is the Normandy format.

    So the door to diplomacy hasn't been slammed shut.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    You follow very closely, and, in fact, you have been in the middle in some ways of the debate in Congress about the timing of sanctions. You have spoken to congressional leaders about this.

    At this point, do you believe that Russia should be sanctioned now, as these events are unfolding very rapidly in Eastern Ukraine, and should that not include the possibility of pulling Nord Stream 2, the German-Russian pipeline, even before this invasion begins?

  • Emily Haber:

    Well, that's an equation.

    Look, if you adopt punitive sanctions of what has already happened, you slam the door shut to a change of behavior that we actually want to produce by deterring Russia from going down that road in the first place.

    So, while putting sanctions on the shelf for Russia clearly to see what will happen if it incurs, if it invades Ukraine, if we adopt the sanctions now, there's no incentive whatsoever for Russia to reconsider.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    And are you confident that Moscow understands what would happen to Nord Stream 2 if tanks and soldiers start crossing that border?

  • Emily Haber:

    Well, the German chancellor, Olaf Scholz, has been in Moscow earlier this week, and he clearly said in a press conference that the Russians knew it and everyone knew what was going to happen should the Russians invade, should Russia invade Ukraine.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Well, with all due respect, Olaf Scholz did not use the words Nord Stream 2 when discussing that. So he has been a little bit oblique.

    So, are you saying that perhaps, privately, he's perhaps less oblique?

  • Emily Haber:

    He has responded to a question at this press conference that related to Nord Stream 2 and a former chancellor. And it was in this context that he said that Germany would adopt massive sanctions in lockstep with its allies, and the Russians knew exactly what was going to happen.

    I might add, too, that, in the margins of the Munich Security Conference, in the discussion with Secretary of State Blinken, the German foreign minister that Nord — that all options were going to be on the table, and that included Nord Stream 2.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Washington and London have been very aggressive at revealing Russian military plans, what they say are Russian military plans, and U.S. and Western intelligence assessments.

    U.S. officials say that they're trying to remove Putin's element of surprise. Do you agree?

  • Emily Haber:

    Communication strategies can be a difficult equation, because you need to weigh the benefits against the potential costs.

    Calling Putin out and producing clarity and transparency for the entire world to see, including for Russians to see what is going on and what Russia is doing and where the responsibility lies, has clearly a benefit, insofar as the surprise element is no more with Putin, and the initiative is no more with him.

    The initiative is with those who actually produced the transparency for everyone to see.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Emily Haber, Germany's ambassador to the United States, thank you very much.

  • Emily Haber:

    Thank you for having me.

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