Baerbock’s impossible mission in Moscow
After the visit to Kiev on Monday, the German Foreign Minister is expected in Russia. But a lot has happened since Lavrov’s invitation: Germany is now irrelevant for the Kremlin. Nevertheless, there could be a nasty surprise for Baerbock.
When Federal Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock arrives in Moscow, it will not be an easy visit. This is not because her Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov is almost 30 years older and not known for being a feminist – neither in foreign policy nor in everyday life. Nevertheless, it was the Russian who congratulated Baerbock on taking office a month ago and invited her to Moscow.
That was in December. And a lot has happened since that invitation. The marathon of negotiations between Russia and the West in Geneva, Brussels and Vienna last week brought no progress. The conflict has entered the phase of mutual warning signals: the Americans are personally threatening Vladimir Putin with sanctions if Russia attacks Ukraine.
And the Kremlin warns that the reaction to disregard for Russian interests will be “asymmetrical”. Top diplomats will neither confirm nor deny plans to station Russian missiles in Cuba or Venezuela. Ukraine and Poland are being hit by cyberattacks that Russia could be behind. Russian troop movements westward continue.
Baerbock meanwhile emphasizes that Germany wants “substantial and stable relations with Russia”. However, the timing for “a position determination”, as Baerbock called one of the goals of her trip to Moscow, is extremely bad. Basically, Russia has already made its position clear: Negotiations with the West have failed and Ukraine remains in danger.
In addition, in Russia Germany is no longer seen as the privileged partner in Europe, but increasingly only as another NATO country – Nord Stream 2 or not. From the Russian point of view, Germany and the EU as a whole are US vassals, not independent actors with whom it is worth having serious talks about European security and Ukraine. Baerbock will hardly be able to convince Lavrov of the opposite.
cooperation and threats of sanctions
At best, Russia expects Germany to continue its current foreign policy. It played out between cooperation on the one hand, where it is still possible, albeit with restrictions – Baerbock names science, culture, trade and investment – and the language of sanctions and the threat of sanctions on the other.
Even under Baerbock, Germany is sticking to the idea that Russia’s foreign policy can be substantially influenced. When it comes to domestic politics, Baerbock relies in vain on her powers of persuasion to convey the “opportunities” of “civil society cooperation” to Moscow. This has not only been permanently disturbed since the work bans for German NGOs in Russia last year.
Attention will be paid to how Baerbock addresses these issues and what she has to say about Alexej Navalny. Monday marked the anniversary of the return of the Russian opposition figure from Germany. When Navalny was recovering from a poisoning allegedly carried out by the Russian state in the Charité, Baerbock spoke of Russia as a “corrupt regime” that “should not be supported”. She is unlikely to repeat such statements from the pre-election campaign when she meets Lavrov.
Trusting dialogue with Lavrov is impossible anyway. He showed that last November with the publication of confidential diplomatic correspondence on the Normandy format. Putin’s most loyal and longest-serving diplomat, like his ministry as a whole, has become the enforcement authority for the interests of the security apparatus and the secret services in recent years. If they are of the opinion that Lavrov should parade Baerbock in the same way as EU foreign policy chief Josep Borell did last year, Putin’s loyal foreign minister will carry out the order without hesitation. Such a poisoned gift could be a new ban on a German organization – made public just before the joint press conference.