Baerbock in Kiev and Moscow: crisis trip to the east

Status: 01/17/2022 06:03 a.m

Foreign Minister Baerbock travels to Kiev and Moscow. She wants to help reduce the ongoing tensions after Russian troops deployed on the border with Ukraine. Difficult conversations await you.

By Christian Feld, ARD Capital Studio

So now Sergey Lavrov – without a doubt, after almost six weeks as Foreign Minister, Annalena Baerbock has had an impressive number of talks. In comparison, however, it was a warm-up for the trip to Kiev and Moscow. The performance with the Russian counterpart could be a test on the open stage for Baerbock.

Christian Feld
ARD Capital Studio

In 2004, President Putin made the 71-year-old foreign minister, and he has been in office ever since. How will he present himself? Power cold or turned towards? Grumpy or charming? Uncertain.

Baerbock’s predecessor Heiko Maas once described a Lavrov meeting in a podcast of the weekly newspaper “Die Zeit”: First a “very constructive conversation” behind closed doors, later a “very hospitable evening”, only in between the scraps flew. “Unfortunately, the only time that was critical was the time we spent in front of the eyes of the world press,” said Maas.

“Ready for a serious dialogue”

Two days, two capitals: Before leaving, Baerbock said she wanted to listen carefully to what she was talking to: “We are ready for a serious dialogue about mutual agreements and steps that will bring more security to everyone in Europe, including Russia.” But she also describes which basic principles are not compromised: “These include territorial inviolability, the free choice of alliances and the renunciation of the threat of violence as a means of politics.” One is determined to react if Russia goes the way of escalation.

On her journey, Baerbock is first in the Ukraine. She wants to meet President Selenskyj and Foreign Minister Kuleba there and assured in advance: “We are not conducting talks about Ukraine that bypass Ukraine.” Ukraine is certainly fine with the fact that she wants to talk about the development of the green hydrogen market and support offers for cyber defense. However, the country has had other demands for a long time: a stop to the Nord Stream 2 Baltic Sea pipeline and arms deliveries from Germany. The Ukrainian ambassador in Berlin called the reluctance or rejection of armaments aid by Baerbock and the federal government before their departure “very frustrating and bitter”.

Armaments aid for Ukraine – yes or no?

Support for Ukraine comes from the opposition party CDU. For parliamentary group leader Johann Wadephul, the previous position of the federal government is no longer tenable. He told the editorial network Germany: “Our previous refusal to supply arms has apparently been understood by Russia as encouragement to continue violating Ukraine’s sovereignty.”

Last May, Green Party leader Robert Habeck traveled to eastern Ukraine and supported the delivery of “defensive weapons”: armored vehicles to transport the injured, but also weapons to shoot down drones that fly mines over the front.

Foreign politicians in the traffic light coalition are adopting cautious tones before Baerbock’s trip. “We are bound by German law and the coalition agreement,” says FDP foreign policy expert Alexander Graf Lambsdorff ARD Capital Studio. “We impose restraint.” It is conceivable to supply equipment such as helmets, protective vests or radar devices. Baerbock himself had referred to the construction of a military hospital in Washington.

Putin’s strategy still unclear

Baerbock’s trip comes at a time when there is no shortage of diplomatic efforts, but tension and uncertainty remain high. On Friday, the US government accused Russia of creating a pretext for a possible invasion of Ukraine – an operation using agents and under false flags. Russia rejected the supposed sensational news that the US had spread. There is no evidence.

What exactly does Putin want? What could be the next moves in his strategy? Western diplomats who have taken part in the various talk formats do not yet have any reliable insights into these questions. It is quite possible that the answers are only known to Putin and his innermost security apparatus. FDP foreign politician Lambsdorff sees this as a positive development in the most recent talks: “If Russia tried to split its western allies, it has so far achieved the exact opposite, namely great unity.”

Hoping for the Normandy format

Baerbock also wants to “explore” Moscow’s willingness to find diplomatic solutions, especially in the Normandy format. Most recently, France and Germany had three-way talks with Ukraine and Russia, respectively. No further talks are scheduled. After all, according to the federal government, there is “cautious optimism” that diplomatic advisors will be able to return to the round of four.

Baerbock has made a “position determination” for the talks in Moscow. It’s also a practical test of their “dialogue and toughness” formula in dealing with countries like Russia. The Green politician likes to refer to her time as a top athlete. A tool for preparing for difficult games or competitions is video analysis. The German foreign minister has certainly been sufficiently warned. However, it could not hurt to look again at how the EU foreign policy chief Borrell was publicly humiliated by Lavrov a year ago.

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