Annalena Baerbock: German minister stares at Russia over Ukraine | Germany – Post World

Jjust a month after taking office as GermanyThe new Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock has a lot to do. At stake: nothing less than trying to stop the outbreak of war between them Russia and the west.

The news agency Der Spiegel called their meeting this week “a baptism of fire” with her Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov; Die Zeit, her “first big character test”. For the tabloid Bild, it was the equivalent of “entering a bear’s den.”

“Baerbock tries to save the climate,” a left-leaning newspaper slyly headlined a report on its mission – this time referring not to the efforts of the leading Greens to tackle the climate crisis, but to the great task they face to promote dialogue between them Europe and Russia to avoid war with nuclear powers.

Few pleasantries were observed during her meeting with Lavrov, who has been in office for 17 years. Before and after a two-hour meeting Wednesday, held behind closed doors at his gilded Moscow guest house, even polite smiles were absent, while eye contact was minimal. Recordings of the opening minutes of the meeting, beamed to journalists in an adjacent room, showed the pair flanked by their assistants, facing each other stone-faced, across a long table conveniently separated down the middle by a neat row of hand sanitizer bottles. The usual ritual of a final photo op was ignored.

Watched by Germany, as the world’s diplomats considered, has been silent for the time being for conservative critics who have questioned whether Baerbock, as a mother of two young children, is up to the task. Instead, the burning questions before the encounter were: Can it prevent war? and another pressing domestic concern: can she ensure Russia doesn’t cut back on energy supplies to Germany?

The Russian view of Baerbock as an inexperienced, wayward outsider who is overwhelmed in her new role became clear following her appointment last month. “She’s on a confrontational course Russia… behaves as if she is from the US Congress, not the Bundestag,” state broadcaster Rossiya 1 said.

An expert from the Russian Academy of Sciences told the state news agency Tass: “She is absolutely unsuitable for the role. She’s not a diplomat. She doesn’t understand [of] foreign policy and has a hostile attitude toward Russia.”

Baerbock is not only new to the job, at 41 she also belongs to a young generation of German politicians. She is the country’s first female foreign minister. She has long since declared that she will take tough action against what is unmistakably perceived in Berlin and elsewhere as Russian belligerence. When the interlocutors came out of their conversation on questions from German and Russian journalists, she said to them: “I came here with a thick folder – thick because of the whole problem that we have to discuss, about which we sometimes have very different opinions in principle. “

The most pressing issue: the threat Presence of 100,000 Russian soldiers stationed near the Ukrainian border. As Baerbock put it, “It’s hard not to see this as a threat.”

The day before – the order of the visits was of symbolic importance, her staff emphasized – Baerbock had been ridiculed at a meeting with Ukraine’s Foreign Minister, Dmytro Kuleba, in Kiev after he had refused his weapon request. Kuleba expressed his disappointment but replied, “We know where to get the guns from.”

Instead, she emphasized the need for dialogue, calling diplomacy “the only viable way to defuse a highly dangerous situation.” Lavrov said he was “open” to continuing the talks and accused Ukraine of not cooperating. He described his conversation with Baerbock as “useful”.

A war of words between the two had begun before the Moscow meeting, with Baerbock making a statement outlining Germany’s position ahead of their visit and Lavrov hitting back with an essay-like reply some five times longer. He said the Russian government was disappointed with the state of Russian-German relations and accused Germany of complicity in NATO’s presence in Eastern Europe. expulsion of diplomats for flimsy reasons related to the case of the poisoned Russian opposition figure Alexey Navalny, and the restriction of press freedom through pressure on Russian journalists working in Germany. Russia reserves the right to retaliate against German journalists, he said.

Baerbock referred to the Navalny case, who has been in prison for a year; to the new Dissolution of the human rights group NGO Memorial; to a murder in a central Berlin park A court said last month it suspected Russian intelligence was responsible. And she referred to what is probably the biggest elephant in the room: the controversial gas pipeline Nordstream 2. She has long opposed it – not only because of her green credentials, but also out of concern that it could make Berlin dependent on Moscow. She said it could still be stopped. “If energy were to be used as a weapon, there would be consequences associated with this pipeline,” she said.

Rieke Havertz, political scientist at Die Zeit, concluded that Baerbock had moved on the stage of international diplomacy “within the close stepping sequence that was allowed for her in this, her first dance.” Havertz added that it was not easy for her to represent her Social Democratic leader Olaf Scholz, whose party has a complicated stance on Russia, not least because of the close ties to its last chancellor, Gerhard Schröder Wladimir Putin, which gave rise to the pipeline project and in which Schröder remains involved. Scholz, like his predecessor, the Christian Democrat Angela Merkel – and in contrast to Baerbock – wants to keep the pipeline out of politics and thus out of the current conflict. For years, analysts have called this position naïve. The international editor of the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Stefan Kornelius, called it “Germany’s most important lever” in his Thursday editorial, calling the impression that Germany’s unwillingness to abandon the pipeline was an “exploitable weakness”.

Bild, not usually a Baerbock supporter, called her visit “a successful debut in the bear’s den” and praised her for “staying bamboo solid” and “not letting her eyelashes tremble.” It added: “She has earned our respect.”

However, a sober and ironic reality Baerbock now faces is that while she is at the heart of the German government, she has had few opportunities to speak on the issue that lies at the core of her own party’s raison d’être: the environment. Except to announce in Kiev that Germany will soon open an “Office for Hydrogen Diplomacy”. Under the circumstances, one commentator remarked, “it sounded unintentionally funny, even though it was meant to be serious”.

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