“Putin is lonelier and more isolated than ever”
Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock in an interview with the newspaper Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung.
Question: Ms Baerbock, Russia’s President Vladimir Putin has annexed the areas captured by Russia in eastern Ukraine. Are these areas now lost to Ukraine?
Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock: No, they are of course still part of Ukraine’s national territory. Annexations are a breach of international law. This makes them null and void. The Secretary-General of the United Nations made that clear immediately.
Question: If Germany does not supply armoured vehicles and tanks, how can Ukraine recapture these areas?
Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock: First of all, one thing must be made plain. With these sham referendums, Putin is not just showing contempt for the thousands of people who are suffering so terribly under the Russian occupation there. He is also showing contempt for the Charter of the United Nations. This means that few other countries will recognise the annexation – an outcome that is important for Ukraine’s cohesion and that I am working hard for as Foreign Minister together with many of my counterparts. At the same time, yes, Ukraine still needs heavy arms so that it can free those areas and the people there from the Russian occupation. We are therefore continuing to provide Ukraine with military support.
Question: Putin is recruiting an additional 300,000 soldiers, but that will take time. Isn’t the maximum possible military assistance needed now, to make use of this brief window?
Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock: Well, this assistance is coming. We have supplied cutting-edge materiel over the last weeks and months and are continuing to do so. Because we can see what a difference it makes. One of the newest and best air defence systems, IRIS‑T, will reach Ukraine in the coming days. Three more will follow. Various tanks and similar vehicles from Germany are already being deployed in Ukraine, such as Gepard anti‑aircraft tanks and Panzerhaubitze 2000 self-propelled howitzers, and armoured infantry fighting vehicles are being transferred to Ukraine via three-way exchanges. Meanwhile, we are constantly reviewing what else we can do.
Question: But no Leopards, no Marders. “Nobody should go it alone,” is the constant refrain. You know that the French aren’t keen and the US is providing around two thirds of the total support. Is it not a historic failure on the part of Germany not to give everything it can right now?
Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock: I have spent plenty of time over the last half-year of this terrible Russian war of aggression reflecting self-critically on whether we are providing assistance fast enough. But at the same time, we cannot forget that we are in an unpredictable situation, because the Russian President is breaking with every rule of international relations, politics and indeed humanity. So, yes, we are at a crucial moment in world history. We must constantly assess what else we can provide, in light of the situation, in order to defend Ukraine’s right to self-determination and thus the peaceful international order. But our military resources are limited, and it would be presumptuous to believe that Germany could change the course of the war alone. We can only do that together with our international partners.
Question: Moscow is threatening to use an atomic bomb. Is fear of the bomb the reason that Germany is holding back?
Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock: Fear is always a poor basis for decision-making, all the more so when we are dealing with someone who is breaking with every rule. We are therefore carefully weighing each step, while remaining conscious of the immense responsibility entailed by the fact that not taking action would lead to yet more suffering. If Russia gets away with land grabs and blackmail, if it were to win this war – if it destroys Ukraine – then not only would the peaceful European order lie in ruins but no small country would ever be safe.
Question: Do you believe Putin would really use an atomic bomb?
Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock: Throughout this war, which has now lasted more than 220 days, Putin has repeatedly shown that he does not balk at the most terrible war crimes. He does not stop for hospitals or children and he is even prepared to ruin his own country. We take his words very seriously – anything else would be negligent. However, Putin has a history of making irresponsible threats, and he knows that no country in the world – not even those such as China that have not yet taken a clear stance – would sit back and let him play with fire like that. We cannot and will not bow to blackmail. Putin would see that as an invitation to escalate further. His speech made it clear that his imperial delusions are not limited to Ukraine. We are therefore continuing our support for Ukraine with a clear sense of responsibility.
Question: When will peace talks be held?
Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock: We are trying every day to make them happen. Every day since 24 February, one of the more than 190 countries in the world or an international organisation has begged the Russian President on behalf of the international community to stop the bombing. To open humanitarian corridors. Not to abduct children. And the Russian President’s only answer is further atrocities. Unfortunately, Putin made it very clear in Friday’s speech what his willingness to negotiate looks like at the moment. The negotiations that he offered were more or less: “We will steal your land, subjugate your people, and you can put your signature to it.” That is the opposite of peace. That is terror and lack of freedom. This war of aggression will come to an end – immediately – if the aggressor Russia stops destroying Ukraine. However, if Ukraine were to stop defending itself, then Ukraine would come to an end, and the terrible crimes committed against its people would become routine as far as Kyiv. This must be clear to everyone calling for us to stop supporting Ukraine or give in to Putin. Putin has attacked his neighbour without a motive, plunged millions into terrible suffering, thrown the world off course – he must end this war.
Question: Thousands upon thousands of Russians are currently trying to flee their country to avoid being sent to war. But Finland and the Baltic have closed their borders. Will Germany help the deserters?
Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock: We do not want to leave those Russians who are bravely opposing this war on their own. That is why we swiftly decided to issue visas for journalists, activists and human rights defenders who have been subjected to particular political persecution, to bring them to safety. And of course the right to asylum applies.
Question: So no?
Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock: The world is not as simple as we would like. The Baltic states and Finland are much more directly affected than we are. We would do well to take their warnings and concerns seriously. Russia is using every form of hybrid war to try and divide us. And so we cannot simply say, we’ll pull out hundreds of thousands of people who are fleeing conscription, and they’ll all leave Russia over the Baltic or Finnish border. That’s not possible in practical terms alone, but of course for security reasons, too. We must carefully think through the consequences of each step we take, and we must do so together with our European partners. The fact that hundreds of thousands of Russians are currently trying to flee their country shows that the younger generation is realising what fatal consequences this war has for their own lives and their society. Putin is in the process of ruining his own country.
Question: The refugees from Ukraine have met with an admirable welcome. Now the number of people hoping to reach us via the Balkan route is rising. What’s behind this?
Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock: First of all, I am grateful in this moment to be the Foreign Minister of a country that has opened its living rooms, its schools, its businesses, its hospitals to over 465,000 women and 350,000 children from Ukraine. This, for me, is what our European home is about, and it is not “just” solidarity. It is in our own security interests, pure and simple, to oppose this war – united in Europe and in our country – instead of allowing Putin to divide us. Even if this is – we must not beat around the bush – an enormous challenge.
With regard to refugees from other countries, the reason that many Afghans are fleeing to Europe is that the Taliban has imposed a brutal form of control on the country and is making it impossible for women to live their lives, to go to school or work. And the war in Syria, too, continues to drive many people to flee. They all want just one thing, as do we: for their children to be able to live in safety.
Question: In “your” home state, Land Lower Saxony, elections will be held on Sunday. Without these Landtag elections the nuclear power plant in Lingen would have stayed in operation until March or even longer, wouldn’t it?
Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock: No. The times are too serious for petty electioneering.
Question: The impression that Lingen is only being decommissioned out of consideration for Green anti‑nuclear sentiment isn’t accurate?
Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock: The phase‑out of nuclear power was decided years ago, not by this government but by several of its predecessors – for good reason. But it’s also true that, in these hard times, we must stand together. That is what we are doing: in solidarity with Ukraine, in solidarity within our own country and with our European neighbours. Robert Habeck decided on the basis of the facts that, in an emergency, two power plants in the south can help out if the French nuclear plants go offline.
Question: Might the Green party conference say “no” to keeping nuclear plants on standby?
Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock: Our country is currently experiencing the sharpest economic shock since the Second World War, and the peaceful order in Europe is in jeopardy. At a time like this, courage and backbone are needed to make difficult decisions. That is what the Greens are doing. That is what our country is doing. Together. That makes me proud, and it is our best weapon against Putin’s war of aggression.
Interview conducted by Tobias Schmidt