Ahen Annalena Baerbock sits across from her host Sergey Lavrov, the mutual opening remarks are diplomatically polite but formally frosty. There is “no alternative to stable relations between Moscow and Berlin,” says Baerbock. She wants to continue working on that, that’s the view of the entire German government. She knows about the deep historical dimension of German-Russian relations, adds Baerbock, and about “the historical pain that always occurs between our two countries”. Germany will be “eternally grateful” for Russia’s part in defeating National Socialism. She wanted to “quietly” discuss the “entire breadth” of current issues, she told her unmoving Russian counterpart, including those “that put a strain on our friendly relations.”
The hosts had previously informed the new foreign minister in writing what the issues would be from the Russian perspective. On the eve of the meeting, the Moscow side had published a long catalog of alleged German sins and transgressions in mutual relations. After all sorts of pleasantries, it says, “We are disappointed with the current state of Russian-German relations, which are going through a difficult period because of the course of various constrictions that official Berlin is pursuing towards our country”.
The evidence that follows in the text refers to the “significant permanent presence” of the Bundeswehr in Lithuania, which of course, according to Berlin’s understanding and the view of NATO, is neither significant (in battalion strength) nor permanent, but is subject to constant station changes. The fact that Germany is the logistical hub for American troops, that Berlin supports the EU sanctions against Moscow, is also listed and criticized. “Germany is constantly acting against us” on many current international issues is a summarizing complaint in the catalogue, which then shows that Berlin is undertaking “unfriendly acts” by expelling Russian diplomats on flimsy grounds; it is wantonly creating conflict scenarios by accusing Russian government agencies of being involved in the “poisoning” of opposition figure Alexei Navalny or of having carried out an assassination attempt on a “terrorist” in Berlin.
After the end of the talks, which lasted more than twice as long as estimated, the atmosphere between the two ministers is unchanged. That becomes clear in the salutation: “Mr. Colleague,” says Baerbock to Lavrov. The rapid transition to familiar terms, which is otherwise quite common between the top diplomats, who often and constantly see each other in international negotiations, apparently did not take place this morning. From the statements that both made, it can be concluded that a mutual exchange of accusations had previously taken place. As for the “security guarantees” that Russia is now demanding from NATO and the West, Moscow is not looking to Berlin for answers anyway.
With regard to the crisis in eastern Ukraine, Lavrov is at least sending out a moderate signal: the talks in the so-called Normandy format, i.e. in the negotiating group that includes Germany and France in addition to Ukraine and Russia, are to continue soon. At the end of the joint performance, a staged question from the Russian state medium Russia Today Germany, which complains of alleged discrimination by German authorities, ensures that the temperature in the room drops again. In the end, Baerbock walks past “colleague” Lavrov without greeting, and there is no handshake for the cameras. Of course, a joint lunch is also on the agenda.