US, Germany say Russia poses urgent stability challenge
Baerbock agreed. “We jointly reiterated that Russian actions and activities have a clear price and that a further violation of Ukrainian sovereignty by Russia would have serious consequences,” she said.
The Blinken-Baerbock meeting follows a phone call last week between President Joe Biden and Russian President Vladimir Putin, a conversation Sunday between Biden and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, and a panel discussion Tuesday between the security adviser national leader of Biden Jake Sullivan and his counterparts from the five Nordic nations.
It also preceded a series of meetings involving NATO foreign ministers, senior US and Russian officials, the NATO-Russia Council and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe scheduled for next week.
“The real question is whether Russia is serious about diplomacy, serious about de-escalation,” Blinken said. “Let’s see where this goes over the next few weeks. “
Western officials have hinted at a number of economically crippling sanctions that could be imposed if Russia acts. These include an almost total cut-off from the international financial system and steps towards further NATO integration with non-allied European countries.
As the Biden administration struggles to build an international consensus around a set of possible punitive measures, Germany is clearly the linchpin. Ensuring their support will be key to both the message and the implementation of whatever is decided.
Baerbock is the highest diplomat in Germany’s first government in 16 years not led by Angela Merkel. She set Russia a harsher tone than her predecessor. But Germany has taken a less confrontational stance towards Russia compared to many other European countries.
Germany’s trade relations with Russia could be a lever, but they could also be an obstacle to the formation of a united front towards Moscow. Despite strong criticism from the United States, the center-left government of new Chancellor Olaf Scholz has shown no willingness to block the start of natural gas deliveries via a new pipeline connecting Russia and Germany – a move that would harm both countries.
Under Merkel, Germany persuaded the Biden administration last year not to impose sanctions on the company building the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which many say will leave Europe beholden to Russia for energy and Ukraine more vulnerable.
Blinken noted that the pipeline, although completed, has yet to be commissioned and that gas flowing through it would be unlikely if Russia invaded Ukraine.
“If Russia renews its aggression against Ukraine, it would certainly be difficult to see gas flow through it in the future,” he said. This actually gives the EU leverage over Russia, he said, rather than the other way around.
Baerbock did not specifically address the question of whether the pipeline would be operational in the event of Russian intervention.
Nord Stream 2 is a matter of major concern in Washington, and Congress is expected to pass two bills related to it and other sanctions imposed on Russia next week, as meetings are taking place in Europe. . A GOP bill would automatically impose sanctions on Nord Stream, while a Democratic version would impose a wider range of sanctions on Russia if it invaded Ukraine.
Democratic and Republican lawmakers in Washington criticized Nord Stream 2 for increasing Russia’s influence over Germany and limiting what Berlin would be willing to do in response to yet another invasion. Germany, like much of the European Union, is heavily dependent on Russian natural gas.
Matthew Lee and Frank Jordans, The Associated Press