Berlin hosts Blinken's second meeting with European leaders

Antony Blinken has met with his counterparts from France, the UK and Germany to demonstrate the "unity" of the allies and push for diplomatic action against the Russian threat

REUTERS/JOSHUA ROBERTS  -   Antony Blinken, the U.S. Secretary of State

Antony Blinken's tour of Europe continues. After last week's talks between Moscow, Washington and NATO ended in a "stalemate", today it was the turn of the US Secretary of State to meet his counterpart, Annalena Baerbock, in the German capital of Berlin.

This meeting follows a meeting between the US official and Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelenski, who reiterated the need to "intensify the work of all forms of negotiation and pave the way for a Normandy Summit". Zelenski was referring to the diplomatic group made up of representatives of Russia, Germany, Ukraine and France, which aims to resolve the conflict in the Donbas, a region in eastern Ukraine.

Now, on his second day on the European continent, Blinken has travelled to Berlin, where - after a bilateral meeting with German Foreign Minister Baerbock - he also met with the French and British foreign ministers, Jean-Yves Le Drian and James Cleverly, respectively. The talks between the four senior officials of the Transatlantic Quad addressed the Ukraine border crisis, highlighting the "unity" between Washington and its European allies, as Blinken said.  

Yves Le Drian
AFP/ ERIC PIERMONT  -  France's Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian 

The US Secretary of State added that all the talks taking place at bilateral meetings, summits and forums are aimed at promoting diplomatic and peaceful ways to achieve a "de-escalation" of tensions. However, Blinken has not hesitated to warn Moscow that, should it decide to attack Ukraine, it would have "swift and massive" consequences for Russia.

However, despite the diplomatic and symbolic importance of this last stop in the German capital, the meeting that has aroused most interest is the one scheduled for Friday 21 January in Geneva. There, Antony Bliken will meet with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov to make progress on the common points of the diplomatic path. This objective appears to remain in place despite the North Atlantic Alliance's rejection of Moscow's demands to withdraw NATO troops and armaments from the region and not to admit Kiev as a member, under the threat of an unspecified "military-technical response" if it fails to do so.

Nord Stream 2
AFP/ODD ANDERSEN  -  Landing facility of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline in Lubmin, north-eastern Germany 
Nord Stream 2 

For her part, Annalena Baerbock visited Moscow last week to meet with her Russian counterpart. After the meeting with Lavrov, Baerbock warned that Russia was running out of time to resolve the Ukraine crisis through diplomacy, and that both Germany and the EU would act against the threat to EU rules.

In this sense, one of the elements that Germany is trying to use to exert pressure on the Moscow government is the implementation of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. For some weeks now, the operation of this gas pipeline has been awaiting the Bundesnetzagentur, the agency that regulates the German energy sector, to resume the certification process, which must be in accordance with Berlin law. 

"If energy is used as a weapon, there will be consequences, including for this pipeline," warned Annalena Bearbock at a press conference. In the same vein, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz declared on Tuesday that if Russia were to attack Ukraine, this contract would automatically be broken. 

Sergey Lavrov, on the other hand, has called Nord Stream 2 'the biggest commercial project of the last decade to ensure the energy security of Germany and Europe', and urged the Berlin government to stop 'politicising this project'. Apparently, the Russian president still seems to hope that his position as Europe's main gas supplier will guarantee him a certain immunity from the continent.

REUTERS/ALEXANDER ERMOCHENKO  -  A militant of the self-proclaimed Donetsk People's Republic (DNR) points a gun at fighting positions on the Ukrainian armed forces' disengagement line south of the rebel-held city of Donetsk, Ukraine 2 April 2021
Ukraine prepares 

Meanwhile, as fears of a real conflict triggered by Russia's invasion have grown, Kiev has moved to take action. Last week the British authorities announced the supply of short-range anti-tank missiles to Ukraine, which is facing 'increasingly threatening behaviour' from Russia. In addition, London has announced that, along with this shipment of weapons, around 100 paramilitary soldiers will be sent to the country to assist with military training. 

Similarly, the US State Department has confirmed that Washington has approved requests from its Baltic allies - Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania - to send US weapons to Ukraine. "European allies have what they need to move forward with additional security assistance to Ukraine in the coming days and weeks," a senior US State Department official said.  

Josep Borrell
REUTERS/JOHN THYS  -  The High Representative of the European Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Josep Borrell, during a press conference
The position of the European Union 

After last week's round of talks between representatives of NATO, the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE), the United States and Russia sidelined the EU, Josep Borrell met yesterday by telephone with Antony Blinken, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg and Zbigniew Rau, Poland's foreign minister and OSCE chairman-in-office.  

According to a post on the official Twitter account of the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, during the discussion "on the next steps", the officials agreed on the "need to maintain the fundamental principles of European security", as well as to mitigate tensions with Russia.