At Wartime Davos Forum, Calls for European Unity Are Eased by Relief

DAVOS, Switzerland — Chancellor Olaf Scholz of Germany offered a robust expression of solidarity with Ukraine at the World Economic Forum this week, a stance reflecting not only the imperative of repelling a brutal aggressor but also palpable relief that Europe has not been crippled by Russia’s war.

Mr. Scholz was among several European officials who trekked to the frigid, snow-covered streets of the Alpine ski resort where the forum is held to express confidence that Europe was withstanding the sudden loss of Russian energy supplies. By diversifying rapidly into alternate energy sources and bolstering efforts to conserve, he said, the Germans had staved off the danger of homes losing heat or electricity.

“I can say that our energy supply for this winter is secure,” Mr. Scholz said to a receptive audience at the annual gathering. “Thanks to well-filled storage facilities, thanks to improved energy efficiency, thanks to remarkable solidarity within Europe, and thanks to the readiness of our companies and of millions of citizens to save energy.”

The chancellor made no mention of another pressing matter: whether Germany will send battlefield tanks to Ukraine. The German government is widely expected to announce its decision on Friday after its officials meet with American and other allies at the Ramstein Air Base in western Germany.

Mr. Scholz has come under escalating pressure from Britain and other countries to send Leopard 2 tanks, and to give other countries that own the German-made tanks the greenlight to do so, too. But Germany has been reluctant, fearing that they could lead to a direct confrontation between Russian and NATO forces. And important questions remain unanswered, among them whether any German commitment would be linked to a commitment by the United States.

A German Leopard 2 tank at a demonstration event in Münster.Credit…Michael Sohn/Associated Press

Among those piling on the pressure at Davos was Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, who called on the West to speed up aid. “The time the free world uses to think is used by the terrorist state to kill,” he said via a video link from Kyiv, the Ukrainian capital.

Onstage at the World Economic Forum

The annual gathering of world leaders takes place in Davos, Switzerland, from Jan. 16 to 20.

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It was Mr. Zelensky’s second address to the World Economic Forum, and while he is now a familiar figure, the timing of his appearance was a stark reminder of the dangers Ukrainian leaders face. He asked for a moment of silence to honor the victims of a helicopter crash in a suburb of Kyiv, who included Ukraine’s minister of internal affairs and more than a dozen others.

The speeches by Mr. Scholz and Mr. Zelensky came during a frenetic week of diplomacy — in Davos and in foreign capitals — as Ukraine appealed to the West for tanks, air defense missiles and other advanced weapons. Its goal is to reinforce its battlefield position ahead of a potential new Russian offensive.

Another prominent Ukrainian — Vitali Klitschko, the mayor of Kyiv — expressed optimism that the tanks would be sent. He was part of a large Ukrainian delegation, including Mr. Zelensky’s wife, Olena Zelenska, that has fanned out across Davos to make the case for increased military and financial aid.

“Let’s pay attention in two days,” Mr. Klitschko said to Agence France-Presse, referring to the meeting at the Ramstein base. “I hope it will be very positive for Ukraine. Unofficially, I have very good and positive signals.”

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine addressing the gathering remotely on Wednesday.Credit…Fabrice Coffrini/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

The upbeat vibe was also evident in Mr. Scholz’s remarks, if not specifically about tanks.

He extolled Germany’s opening of natural gas terminals and expanded purchases of gas from Norway as proof that it had weaned itself off Russian gas. Much of his speech was about Germany’s transformation to carbon-free manufacturing, a lasting dividend of its rushed search for alternatives to Russia.

“Above all, it shows Germany can be flexible,” he said. “We can be unbureaucratic. And we can be fast.”

As the leader of Europe’s largest economy — until recently, Germany was also the biggest customer for Russian gas — Mr. Scholz has come to symbolize both the advances and shortfalls in the West’s response to the Russian invasion.

Russia’s onslaught prompted him to proclaim “the Zeitenwende,” a turning point in German foreign policy, under which Mr. Scholz pledged to dramatically increase military spending and abandon the passive approach that characterized Germany for much of the post-World War II period.

Yet since then, Mr. Scholz has also come under criticism for dragging his feet in sending heavy weapons to Ukraine. He has insisted that any decisions be carried out in coordination with allies and has been reluctant to send the Leopard tanks, which are viewed as well-suited to the battlefield.

While Mr. Scholz and others offered full-throated statements of support for Ukraine, critics noted that the war came up less often in conversations among the corporate executives and financiers who are the lifeblood of Davos. Others pointed out that the focus on Ukraine, however necessary, should not distract from other urgent global challenges, like combating climate change.

“We are looking into the eye of a Category 5 hurricane,” António Guterres, the secretary general of the United Nations, said in his address. “There is a lack of sense of urgency with respect to climate.”

António Guterres, the secretary general of the United Nations, addressing the gathering in Davos.Credit…Fabrice Coffrini/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Still, just before Mr. Zelensky began speaking, a crowd packed into “Ukraine House,” a few hundred yards down the main promenade in Davos, to discuss investment opportunities in Ukraine.

The message to the standing-room-only crowd was both simple and daunting: This will be the largest reconstruction effort since World War II, and companies and investors should get involved now. Those looking for high returns on their investments should “go to Kyiv,” said the president of Moldova, Maia Sandhu.

Such pep talks did not answer tricky questions about what shape the reconstruction of Ukraine will take, where the money will come from, and whether Ukraine can guarantee that the rebuilding will be accompanied by needed institutional changes.

Rustem Umerov, the chairman of Ukraine’s state property fund, said via a video link that his country has been in discussions with investment banks and other partners in the United States and Europe. It was also in talks with sovereign wealth funds, including those of the United Arab Emirates and Qatar.

Alongside money, what Ukraine needs are guarantees provided by governments to spread the risk of investments, said Werner Hoyer, the president of the European Investment Bank.

Lenna Koszarny, the Kyiv-based chief executive of Horizon Capital, a private equity fund, said in an interview that she continued to make “high double digit returns.” Horizon primarily invests in technology and export companies and is in the process of raising the second half of a $250 million fund.

“Stay out at your peril,” Ms. Koszarny said, noting that the Ukrainian authorities were paying attention to the companies and financial institutions who are willing to take risks now, while the fighting was still raging.

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