Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock flies to Ukraine and Russia on inaugural visits. The two-day trip should be a first acid test for the Green politician.
Berlin/Kiev – Before leaving for her first visits to Kiev and Moscow, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock advocated a diplomatic solution to the crisis between Russia and Ukraine.
“We are ready for a serious dialogue about mutual agreements and steps that will bring more security to everyone in Europe, including Russia,” she said in Berlin on Monday. But one is “determined to react if Russia instead goes the way of escalation”. No compromises could be made on basic principles such as territorial inviolability, the free choice of alliances and the renunciation of the threat of violence.
Western countries are alarmed by Russian troops near Ukraine. Russia, on the other hand, sees itself threatened by NATO and is therefore demanding an end to NATO’s eastward expansion and, in particular, that Ukraine should not be admitted.
Immediately after her arrival in Kiev, Baerbock wanted to meet German representatives of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) observer mission there. Then there should be consultations with President Volodymyr Zelenskyj and her counterpart Dmytro Kuleba. Talks with Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov are planned for Tuesday in Moscow.
“I want to find out on site whether there is a willingness to find solutions through diplomatic channels – above all, to breathe life into the Normandy process again and finally make progress in implementing the Minsk agreements,” emphasized Baerbock. The conflict had recently escalated after the Russian troop deployment on the Ukrainian border. These should be Baerbock’s central themes in Kiev:
Arms deliveries to Ukraine
Shortly before their visit, the Ukrainian ambassador in Berlin, Andriy Melnyk, had urged Baerbock to promise Kiev the delivery of weapons for national defense. The reluctance or rejection of armaments aid is “very frustrating and bitter,” he told the German Press Agency. Ukraine has been demanding arms deliveries from Germany for years in order to be able to defend itself against a possible Russian attack – so far without success. Green party leader Robert Habeck said during a visit to Ukraine during the election campaign last May that the country could hardly be denied “defensive weapons”.
conflict in eastern Ukraine
Parts of the eastern Ukrainian regions of Luhansk and Donetsk have been controlled by pro-Russian separatists since 2014. Despite a peace plan negotiated in Minsk (Belarus) with Franco-German mediation, the conflict does not come to an end. According to UN estimates, more than 14,000 people have died in the area so far. Russia and Ukraine repeatedly accuse each other of violating the peace plan. In the self-proclaimed People’s Republics of Luhansk and Donetsk, structures of their own have long since been formed with the help of Moscow. In addition, Russia has issued hundreds of thousands of passports there – and naturalized Ukrainians with them.
The controversial Baltic Sea pipeline Nord Stream 2
In Ukraine, Baerbock’s skepticism about the Nord Stream 2 Baltic Sea pipeline should be particularly welcome. Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD), on the other hand, sees it as a private-sector project and has described the approval process as purely apolitical. The pipeline, which has been completed but has not yet been released for operation, is intended to pump gas from Russia to Germany in the future – bypassing the Ukraine, which as a result will continue to lose importance and, above all, important income as the most important transit country for a long time. Russia emphasizes that the way through the new gas pipeline is safer, shorter and cheaper.
gas transit network
Ukraine fears that its gas transit network, which has long been fundamental to Europe’s energy security, could fade into insignificance. The Russian gas giant Gazprom has already drastically reduced throughput volumes in recent years. The federal government has promised help with the future use of the network and has also discussed feeding it with hydrogen. Ukraine, however, is skeptical. While 141 billion cubic meters were transported to Europe via Ukraine in 1998, in 2021 it was only 41.6 billion cubic meters, the lowest value since independence 30 years ago.
Situation of the media and dealing with the opposition
Because of the attention paid to the Ukraine conflict, the West, which is also always concerned about basic freedoms, sometimes overlooks the fact that Zelenskyj is opening up additional fronts domestically. With a view to his intended re-election in spring 2024, to Moscow’s displeasure, he had five of the pro-Russian television stations close to the opposition closed and two news websites blocked. One of the main protagonists of the Moscow-oriented forces, MP Viktor Medvedchuk, a confidant of Russian President Vladimir Putin, was sidelined on a treason trial and has been under house arrest for months. dpa
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