German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock is due to meet in Moscow on Tuesday, seeking to ease tensions as Russia prepares to invade Ukraine.
Baerbock had spent the previous days in Kyiv, where she said Germany would “do everything to ensure Ukraine’s security”.
She also said that any attack on Ukraine would have a high price for the aggressor.
However, Berlin remained vague about the steps it was taking to help Ukraine. Unlike the United States and the United Kingdom, Germany refused to supply the former Soviet state with defensive weapons. Baerbock, instead, offered to strengthen Ukraine’s cyber defenses.
Baerbock will discuss safety with Lavrov
During his first visit to Moscow, Baerbock is to give a joint press conference with veteran Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
Both are expected to focus on the border standoff between Ukraine and Russia, as well as demands for security guarantees that Moscow recently provided to NATO.
Russia currently has around 100,000 troops stationed on its border with Ukraine. Moscow has also demanded that NATO drastically reduce its military buildup in Eastern Europe and wants the transatlantic military alliance to promise that it will never accept Ukraine as a member. But Russia denies looking for a pretext to invade Ukraine or plan an attack.
On Tuesday, Russian Parliament Speaker Vyacheslav Volodin accused NATO of seeking a pretext to “occupy” Ukraine.
“It is perfectly obvious that Washington is trying to justify its expansion and moving NATO troops to Russian borders,” he told Russian lawmakers.
En route to Moscow, Baerbock said Berlin wanted stable diplomatic relations and was “ready for an honest dialogue on the steps to be taken for more security for everyone in Europe”.
“Our framework are the fundamental principles of our order of peace and security,” she wrote on Twitter.
What is Berlin’s position on Russia?
Although new to her post, Baerbock has already shown a willingness to draw clear lines when it comes to Russia, including the expulsion last month of two Russian embassy workers.
Baerbock declared both personae non gratae for a murder in a Berlin park, which a German court linked to the Russian state, and she denounced the 2019 murder as “murder by state contract”.
She also took a clear stance on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline that connects Russia and Germany, saying the pipeline should not be allowed to operate if the crisis in Ukraine escalates.
However, the government led by Chancellor Olaf Scholz seems divided on the issue. Last week, German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht said the project “should not be drawn into this conflict”.
Ukraine opposes the pipeline because it would allow Russia to bypass its neighbor when exporting gas to buyers in Western Europe, potentially reducing Kyiv’s international importance and potentially depriving the impoverished country of fees of transit.
But Germany is facing an energy crisis and rising electricity prices, putting Berlin under pressure to open the floodgates to Nord Stream 2. Many Western politicians accuse Russia of trying to arm the energy supply against the European Union, which Moscow and its state-controlled gas exporter Gazprom deny.
What is Moscow’s perspective on Berlin’s role?
Speaking from Moscow, DW correspondent Emily Sherwin said the Russian side would “listen carefully” and try to get a feel for Germany’s new foreign minister.
“Baerbock has suggested reviving peace talks in the Normandy format, with Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany around the table,” Sherwin said.
From Moscow’s perspective, however, “Germany and even Europe basically have nothing to do” with Russian security demands, she added.
“Russia has demanded that the United States and NATO issue a written response to its demands, so it appears that Russia is only willing to talk to the United States when it comes to these security demands and in a way, Europe is on the sidelines.”
The United States and NATO have made it clear that they do not wish to interfere directly in a military confrontation between Russia and Ukraine. Media reports indicate that the United States and its European allies are now considering sanctions against Russian banks in the event of an attack on Ukraine, possibly cutting them off from the international payment system SWIFT. But such a move would also harm Western economies.
From the Russian perspective, “the West really has no influence” on Moscow, Sherwin said, nothing that Russia has “gotten used to sanctions over the past few years.”
Edited by: Rebecca Staudenmaier