Germany’s Green foreign minister thrown into deep end with Ukraine

Annalena Baerbock tells Ukrainian leaders Berlin will not make deals behind Kyiv’s back

On taking office as Germany's chief diplomat, Annalena Baerbock promised to spearhead a new era of "value-oriented" foreign policy. Her promise begged two questions: what had led Berlin's previous foreign policy, and what does the Green Party co-leader mean by "value"?

It seems the growing Ukraine-Russian stand-off will force an answer, sooner rather than later, and ensure Germany’s foreign minister has a diplomatic baptism of fire.

Ahead of her first meeting on Tuesday with her seasoned Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, Baerbock told Ukrainian leaders and journalists that Berlin would neither leave Kyiv alone nor make deals behind its back.

But she had little concrete to offer Ukraine because, six weeks after taking office, Germany's three-way coalition is at odds over what to do next.

Baerbock and her Green Party allies insist Russia will pay for any move on Ukraine. As ideal leverage they point to Nord Stream 2, a completed undersea gas pipeline now awaiting certification from German and European Union authorities.

The project to deliver Russian gas directly to Germany has divided Europe and created huge tensions between Berlin and Washington. Nord Stream 2's "geopolitical implications" were clear, Baerbock insisted on Monday in Kyiv, "otherwise we wouldn't be talking about it continually".

Coalition partner

That is a different tune to her Social Democratic Party (SPD) coalition partner and its chancellor, Olaf Scholz. Traditionally more conciliatory towards Moscow, leading SPD figures insisted last week the pipeline project, run by state-controlled Gazprom, was a private project that should not be "dragged into" the Russian-Ukraine conflict.

Scholz is not just anxious to maintain consistency with the Merkel era, he is wary of further sanctions against Moscow and has warned Team Baerbock that the chancellery – not the foreign ministry – will have the last word on the Russian-Ukraine standoff.

That in turn has prompted leading Greens to wave last July's agreement with Washington, which was struck by the Merkel administration – including the SPD – committing Berlin to energy sanctions against Moscow "should Russia attempt to use energy as a weapon or commit further aggressive acts against Ukraine".

Ahead of her high-stakes talks in Moscow, Baerbock noted that an essential condition for diplomacy is to understand the other side’s point of view, “even if you sometimes have completely opposite views”.

After Moscow, such skills will prove useful back home in Berlin as the Scholz administration teases out the difference between the cost, and value, of sovereign borders and Russian gas imports.