Washington/Moscow (dpa) – In the middle of the crisis between Russia and Ukraine, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock (Greens) is traveling to Kiev and Moscow this Monday and Tuesday for inaugural visits. Baerbock will meet President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba in the Ukrainian capital Kiev on January 17, a spokesman for the Federal Foreign Office announced on Friday in Berlin. She will continue to Moscow that evening. Talks with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov are scheduled there on Tuesday. According to the spokesman, one theme of the trip will be the effort to make progress in the so-called Normandy format. These negotiations between Russia and Ukraine, mediated by Germany and France, have long been on hold. Most recently, there was a meeting at executive level in Paris in 2019. Deputy government spokeswoman Christiane Hoffmann said that after talks between Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s (SPD) foreign policy adviser, Jens Plötner, and his French colleague in Ukraine and Russia, there was cautious optimism that it would be successful, initially at the diplomatic adviser level return to the Normandy format. The talks with Lavrov will also address the question of how security can be organized in Europe “so that states do not feel threatened by each other,” said the Foreign Office spokesman. However, the Baerbock talks are not the continuation of those consultations that have been held in other formats this week, he said against the background of the largely fruitless negotiations between the USA and Russia, in the NATO-Russia Council and within the framework of the organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Lavrov makes demands on NATO and the United States According to the spokesman for the Federal Foreign Office, Baerbock’s trip to Ukraine is taking place on the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries. Baerbock will also meet German representatives of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) observer mission in Kiev. In addition, a discussion on the Ukrainian hydrogen strategy is planned. In Moscow, the minister also wants to visit the “Diversity United” exhibition sponsored by the federal government in the Tretyakov Gallery, the spokesman said. The exhibition was opened last November as part of the Year of Germany in Russia. The exhibition, which is now being shown in Moscow after its premiere in Berlin, is also dedicated to controversial issues in Russia, such as gender identity and the pursuit of freedom. After the negotiations on Moscow’s demands for security guarantees, Russia’s Foreign Minister Lavrov is calling for a quick written response from NATO and the USA. “We are waiting for an answer, for an answer from our colleagues on paper,” Lavrov said on Friday at a press conference to mark the beginning of the year in Moscow. He lamented the lack of accommodation on the part of the West during talks this week in Geneva, Brussels and Vienna. The minister accused the alliance of continuing on a confrontational course – especially in view of the most recent statements about the possible inclusion of Scandinavian countries in the alliance. This is an “artificial extension” of a NATO that basically lost its purpose with the end of the Cold War more than 30 years ago. The West also disregards international law, according to Lavrov, and is intent on building a new world order. More Russian military maneuvers “We need legally binding guarantees. The verbal promises have never been fulfilled by our western partners,” Lavrov said of Moscow’s call for binding security guarantees. Specifically, Russia wants to stop NATO’s eastward expansion and prevent neighboring Ukraine from becoming a member, which the country sees as a threat. Russia is open to “counter-proposals”. Meanwhile, the Russian military held new maneuvers. The Ministry of Defense announced that there had been an unannounced review of combat readiness in the military district of the east. It released a video that showed convoys of military vehicles and tanks being loaded onto railroad cars. Soldiers were taken to remote training areas. A focus was also on the infrastructure “to ensure the transport of troops within a certain time,” it said. Just this week, the United States accused Russia of not having shown any efforts to ease the tension in the Ukraine conflict. Russia continues to have around 100,000 soldiers deployed on the border with Ukraine, US Ambassador to NATO Julianne Smith told US broadcaster CNN. As early as Wednesday, more than 10,000 soldiers began maneuvers at more than 20 training areas in southern Russia. USA warns of escalation The USA recently again warned Moscow of a further escalation in the Ukraine conflict. US President Joe Biden’s National Security Adviser, Jake Sullivan, said of the Russian troop deployment on the border with Ukraine: “It is certainly the case that the risk of a military invasion is high.” So far, however, the secret services have not come to the conclusion “that the Russians have finally decided to take military action in Ukraine.” Sullivan once again called on Moscow to de-escalate and reduce troops in the region. The US national security adviser said: “We and our allies are prepared for any eventuality.” This applies both to diplomatic negotiations and in the event that Russian President Vladimir Putin seeks military escalation. “We have made Russia very clear about the costs and consequences of further military action or the destabilization of Ukraine.” Sullivan again threatened Moscow with economic and financial sanctions, export control measures and an armament of Ukraine “if the Russian military crosses the Ukrainian border”. German Defense Minister Christine Lambrecht warned Russia of the consequences of an attack on Ukraine. “Russia has no right of veto when it comes to alliance issues and cannot blackmail us here either,” said the SPD politician in the Bundestag on Friday. But there is a lot of leeway between the red lines and a military conflict that needs to be exploited. “We must exhaust all means to defuse this conflict.” Representatives of the 30 NATO countries and Russia held talks on Wednesday for the first time in two and a half years – about the Ukraine conflict and security guarantees that Moscow is demanding from the transatlantic military alliance. There was also a meeting of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) on Thursday. A high-level meeting of representatives of Russia and the United States was held in Geneva on Monday. Russia sees its security threatened by NATO and is therefore demanding an end to NATO’s eastward expansion and, in particular, a renunciation of Ukraine’s membership. The US categorically rejects such a commitment. Western countries, on the other hand, are alarmed about the Russian troop deployment near Ukraine.
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