Baerbock in Moscow: firm stance or empty threat?

German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock met her Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov in Moscow on Tuesday. On behalf of the EU she warned Russia against invading Ukraine, saying "We have no choice but to defend our common rules, even if it comes at a high economic price." Commentators speculate on what Germany would do if Russia does invade.

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Clear words but no confrontation

Despite her inexperience the new German Foreign Minister has shown she can stand up to Russia, comments approvingly:

“Anyone who thought that Baerbock, who has been in office for less than two months, would be shown up by Foreign Minister Lavrov, who has seen many players come and go on the world stage over the past 18 years, was very much mistaken. ... Baerbock stressed the common ground shared with Moscow and held out her hand, but did not conceal the issues that divide them. ... Navalny. State-contracted murders on German soil. Human rights abuses in Russia. Lavrov, who can be very belittling when he wants to, stood by and listened.”

Süddeutsche Zeitung (DE) /

Scholz's clarification was overdue

Baerbock's self-assured appearance will not be enough to make an impression in Moscow, the Süddeutsche Zeitung stresses:

“What is needed is a united position on the part of the German government and the current 'traffic light' coalition vis-à-vis Russia. It is not for nothing that the foreign minister has to face the question of whether there is such a position in Berlin on Nord Stream 2, probably the most important leverage Germany has against Russia. When Lavrov demands that the project not be politicised, he can count on backing from the ranks of the SPD. It was therefore an overdue and important move for Chancellor Olaf Scholz to clarify alongside the Nato Secretary General that Nord Stream 2 is also at stake if Russia invades Ukraine again.”

Wiener Zeitung (AT) /

A delicate bargaining chip

Berlin is playing the pipeline card, albeit reluctantly, the Wiener Zeitung notes:

“Under pressure from Germany's partners, the future of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which is supposed to pump Russian gas into Germany, is now up in the air again. ... If Putin allows troops to invade, the finished project - which cost billions - will be dead. Putin can't want that, and Berlin even less so. The question is: will this deter the Russian president from an offensive against Kyiv or will it force Germany to make too many concessions to Moscow? Putin knows that most people in the West - and not only them but also their governments - have more pressing problems than a confrontation with Russia. This impression leads to dangerous miscalculations.” (PL) /

Germany's Greens in a dilemma

wPolityce does not believe that the Ukraine crisis is high on the list of priorities for Baerbock's party:

“Of course the Greens could leave the coalition in protest against Nord Stream 2 and the appeasement policy towards Russia, but they won't. After all, Russian gas is an important part of Germany's energy transition; it guarantees the country a stable electricity supply on its path to climate neutrality in the transition period after the nuclear power plants shut down. And it is for the sake of this transition that the Greens are in this government. Germany has voluntarily made itself dependent on Russia, and now it has to appease Russia. As Baerbock emphasised in Kiev, Berlin is 'very patient' in foreign policy.”

Večernji list (HR) /

Danger of war not taken seriously

The EU's most powerful leaders seem not to recognise the seriousness of the situation, Večernji list comments:

“Since the break-up of Yugoslavia, Europe has never been this close to war. And that's only because Brussels and Berlin are already lagging behind on Ukraine and Paris hardly cares. Yet France is currently presiding over the EU and Emmanuel Macron is expected to make concrete moves towards European unity that transform the EU into a geopolitical rather than just an economic power. And German Chancellor Scholz apparently calculated that it would be more useful for him to resolve the conflict over fiscal rules with Spanish Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez than to travel to Kyiv or Moscow.”

Rzeczpospolita (PL) /

Where two worlds collide

Rzeczpospolita doesn't believe the German foreign minister will succeed in the negotiations:

“The meeting between Baerbock and Lavrov is essentially one between two politicians from completely incompatible worlds. The escalating conflict between the US, China and Russia is essentially about restructuring the world that emerged after the end of the Cold War. Unlike the decision-makers in Washington, the Kremlin or Beijing, however, the ever younger politicians in Western Europe have long regarded the end of the Cold War as history. For them the climate or the fight for women's rights are incomparably more important priorities than settling scores with the past. But it is not hard to predict which of these two worlds will prevail today.”

Ria Nowosti (RU) /

Lack of consensus within Berlin's government

Ria Novosti underscores domestic differences regarding Germany's Russia policy:

“In the new coalition it's not Baerbock's openly pro-Atlantic Greens who are setting the tone, but Chancellor Scholz's SPD. ... The Social Democrats, as former architects of the mutually beneficial 'Ostpolitik', are trying to reconcile the irreconcilable: the intense pressure on Russia applied by the Atlanticists and the desire to cultivate diverse relations with the Russians.”