Martin meets an exhausted Scholz with Ukraine question hanging in the air

Taoiseach mostly ignored by German journalists focused on Russia’s latest move

Hours after Russian tanks rolled over Ukraine’s eastern border, the only boots on the ground in Berlin belonged to 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 a grey-faced Chancellor Olaf Scholz. His host’s exhausted eyes told their own story, of a sleepless night of frantic phonecalls, but his answer is lost to history.

Between them, the two leaders have just 21 months’ experience as heads of government and faced the press together with a grim hangover from Monday night’s dose of Russian Realpolitik.

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Reading closely from cards, the chancellor remembered to welcome his guest and restated German support for Ireland — and its expectations of London — in the Brexit talks

In the chancellery courtyard, the two men introduced each others’ teams, then stood to attention for the national anthems.

Spared Amhrán na bhFiann’s text — mid cannons’ roar and rifles’ peal — Mr Scholz had an undertaker’s demeanour as he glided along in a black dresscoat, steering Micheál Martin past the assembled Bundeswehr soldiers.

After a rush into the chancellery — their press conference was moved at the last minute to before their talks — Mr Scholz had to focus hard on the task at hand.

Reading closely from cards, the chancellor remembered to welcome his guest and restated German support for Ireland — and its expectations of London — in the Brexit talks.

But his mind was clearly elsewhere: 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 Mr Martin and pressed the chancellor on how tough Berlin’s response would be to Russia’s latest move. No change on Germany’s weapons ban for Ukraine, the chancellor said, before grabbing the political nettle named Nord Stream 2.

This is the second of two undersea gas pipelines initiated by his political mentor Gerhard Schröder — the ex-chancellor turned Russian lobbyist — in 2005. The second 1,200km pipeline was completed last year but is awaiting a final permit from Germany’s federal energy authority to start pumping Russian gas directly to Germany.

For months Mr Scholz insisted the pipeline was a commercial endeavour, a non-political project. On Tuesday he announced he had instructed his energy minister to withdraw documents crucial for the permit process.

As a low, moaning wind blew through the chancellery atrium, past the assembled press and onto the wall of predecessor portraits stretching back to Konrad Adenauer, Mr 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 and I appeal again to Russia to help in this.”

With no handshake before their respective flags, Mr Scholz strode off with Mr Martin for lunch

But even without NordStream 2, Germany remains dependent like few other countries in Europe on Russian natural gas. Regardless of Russia’s plans for Ukraine, Germany will remain one of Moscow’s biggest energy customers.

Mr Scholz conceded that one quarter of German energy is drawn from natural gas, half of which from Russia, but that his country is working hard to diversify its energy mix. It hopes to double its wind energy production by 2045. And what about winter 2022?

“This is a great European task that we have to tackle,” he said.

With no handshake before their respective flags, Mr Scholz strode off with Mr Martin for lunch.

Over Arctic char and Friesian ox — better known as roast beef — they had no shortage of food — or political problems — to chew over.