US Secretary of State in Berlin: Diplomacy in millimeter movements

As of: 01/20/2022 9:31 p.m

US Secretary of State Blinken travels a lot during the Ukraine crisis. At a meeting in Berlin, he demonstrated unity with Western partners. But quick diplomatic successes are not to be expected.

By Christian Feld, ARD Capital Studio Berlin

In diplomacy, the subtleties of language matter. Single words can be very important – especially in times of crisis. And so, during his visit to Berlin, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken accompanies a great deal of irritation that his President Joe Biden triggered. His statements had opened the way for the reading that NATO sanctions against Russia could depend on the extent of a possible Russian invasion.

Christian Feld
ARD Capital Studio

“It’s one thing when it’s a minor intrusion,” Biden said in Washington the night before, adding, “But if they’re actually doing what they’re capable of with the forces assembled at the border, then it will be a catastrophe for Russia.” The criticism immediately came that the US President was formally inviting Russia’s President Vladimir Putin to take low-threshold action. The White House responded with clarification.

Many air miles accrue

Nevertheless, Blinken is asked about it in Berlin. He tries to provide clarity: One is prepared for all scenarios. Should any Russian military forces cross the border into Ukraine and disperse new aggression, it would result in a “swift, serious and united” response. His hostess, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, makes it clear: “We urge Russia to take steps to de-escalate.”

A finding of the past few weeks: the search for a solution should not fail due to a lack of travel activities. It’s a lot of air miles being flown on diplomatic missions these days. The goal is to ease tensions after the massive Russian troop deployment on the border with Ukraine. The US Secretary of State’s government plane landed in Berlin from Kiev in the morning. Blinken waves briefly before walking down the stairs to the tarmac and making his way in his column to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs at Werderscher Markt.

Meeting should be inventory

Four flags were set up next to each other in the Foreign Office this morning. “Quad meeting” is written on the light blue back wall, a meeting of the representatives of Germany, France and Great Britain with blinking. “Good to see you again!” says the hostess to “Tony”. Blinken and Baerbock are meeting in person for the third time this year: getting to know each other in turbo mode due to the crisis. With “Bienvenue in Berlin!” Baerbock welcomes her counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian from France. Great Britain is represented by Deputy Foreign Secretary James Cleverly.

“Greater success to report today”, Stephan Stuchlick, ARD Berlin, on Western cooperation in the Ukraine conflict

tagesschau24 6 p.m., 20.1.2022

The meeting is intended to be a “stocktaking”. A pause after the many diplomatic efforts of recent times. And it’s obvious that a show of unity should emanate from Berlin before Blinken travels on to Geneva, where he meets Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. When Russia and the US – Putin and Biden – held face-to-face talks, Europe had concerns about being left out. In Berlin, Blinken emphasizes the importance of the so-called Normandy format of Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine. You help where you can.

Russia announces maneuvers

It’s big words that Baerbock uses in the press conference. It’s about “nothing less than maintaining the European peace order,” which they want to defend with a “protective shield,” even if that has economic consequences. The possible sanctions against Russia are well known, including the controversial Nord Stream 2 Baltic Sea pipeline. Recently, Chancellor Olaf Scholz also made it clear that all options were on the table.

Meanwhile, reports are coming from Moscow that the Russian army intends to hold large-scale maneuvers in the Mediterranean and the Atlantic, among other places, in the coming weeks. More than 140 warships were involved, the Ministry of Defense said, according to the Interfax agency. This should not be taken as a sign of relaxation in the West.

Blinking sees Putin on the train

In Berlin, Blinken speaks of a decisive fork in the road: diplomacy or aggression? “In the end it’s President Putin’s turn. He has to decide which course he wants to take.” Perhaps the Geneva meeting will help get a clearer view of the Russian course. Rapid breakthroughs are not to be expected in this conflict. Baerbock continues to rely on the many conversations, even if it sometimes only goes a millimeter further: “Every millimeter is worth it.”

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