Annalena Baerbock Says Germany Says Goodbye to Russian Energy ‘Forever’ She reopens the German embassy. It is the first visit by a German government member to Ukraine, a war victim. And it will be a lesson in the power of “symbolic politics”.

Outside, in contact with people, Annalena Baerbock no longer lectures. She no longer teaches anyone in a know-it-all or slightly snippy manner. In Berlin, in the Bundestag, these things sometimes still come up. In the field, in this case, on the battlefield, it’s all gone. Here Baerbock reveals her second face: as an empathetic politician.

The green empathizes. To the mayor and his bombed city. In the people who go to work and are then bombed by Russians. In churchgoers and supermarket customers. Into the feelings of the victims, to whom she personally promises justice.

She said this to Irpin’s mayor Olexander Markuschyn in his village, which is still mined: “It’s easy to be the foreign minister of a country in peace. But it’s quite another thing to be mayor at war. My greatest respect!” The way Baerbock says this sentence, nothing about it seems mechanically rehearsed or cold – even if it may be part of a professional production.

To the Ukrainian Attorney General Iryna Venediktova, who is accompanying Germany’s Foreign Minister, she said in Bucha: “We owe it to these victims not only to commemorate them here, but also to hold the perpetrators accountable and hold them accountable.”

Several investigators are investigating Russian atrocities, crimes against humanity that are not allowed in any war, just as aggressive war is a violation of international law. Venediktova is the chief investigator. If things go well, she and the chief prosecutor will bring the war criminals before the Criminal Court in The Hague after the war is over. Even Vladimir Putin (even if the obstacles are high).

In view of the horror, top politician Baerbock hits the mark. She wears a black flak jacket over her light brown jacket. Ukrainian bodyguards accompany her every step of the way and become frantic when she gets back into her armored car. This is always a particularly dangerous moment.

One is tempted to write that Baerbock is in a different league in terms of communication than “her” Chancellor. Who chooses his words rather dull, which he then euphemistically calls “level-headed”. But if you see the federal government as an ensemble, and the chancellor and his foreign minister as a team, then this can become a strength. The cool and the passionate. Here more objectivity, there more passion.

Then it would look like division of labour. No more like female strength and male weakness. That is the view the chancellor cultivates of his government. Out of self-interest. It is still open whether the audience will follow him. That’s not the case yet.

Whereby: The Schholzomaten-like thoughtfulness also has its advantages, in direct comparison with the empathy-driven language and speech of Baerbock. The Foreign Minister says sentences that, viewed soberly, go beyond the target.

She says Irpin is a suburb of Kyiv. Like Potsdam is a suburb of Berlin. What happened in Irpin could therefore also happen in Potsdam. And then the sentence falls: “We could be these victims.” There is something right about this statement, but also something wrong.

It is true that the war in Ukraine is not just about Ukraine. It is true that not only a country is being defended here, but also a principle that is also a German principle: the inviolability of borders. And democracy. So it is correct that the Ukraine is also fighting for the West, for Germany as well.

This is also true in other respects. Seen geopolitically, that is, with eyes on the map and ears on Putin’s ideology and threats. The map says: If Putin is not stopped here, he could continue marching west and south.

And the ideology makes it a basic tenet of Russian foreign policy to make “fascists” of those who are not of his mindset. Just as Putin’s great role model did: Josef Stalin. Who Putin wants to bring back into Russian history after the Gorbachev and Yeltsin years, which cost the empire a lot.

But it’s also wrong. Article 5 of the NATO treaty stands between Irpin and Butscha on the one hand and Potsdam on the other; the Western defense alliance makes the crucial difference. Seeing Potsdam and Berlin threatened along Ukrainian lines means that Putin will not shy away from an attack on NATO territory.

Or it means viewing and treating Ukraine as what it is not: a member of NATO. Baerbock blurs – with the very best of intentions – a line that she would do better to draw and which, by the way, corresponds to the line taken by the entire federal government. Just like that of the European Union. And that of NATO, namely: not to become a party to the war.

With almost every step that Baerbock takes on her journey, the first visit by a German government member, announced by her formal boss, the Chancellor, who himself does not want to drive, although so many of his colleagues have done so in the meantime, so almost camera teams are present at every step taken by the Foreign Minister.

Some commentators make a distinction between politics and symbolic politics. Between allegedly substantial “hard” and insubstantial “soft” politics. Baerbock’s visit to the attacked and wounded Ukraine blurs the lines, even when considering politics.

It is by no means taking sides when you say as a journalist that you are doing well. Your natural opponents agree with you. Leading Union politicians have praised Baerbock for their international appearances on several occasions. What sets her apart from any of her predecessors is her refusal to hide herself behind her position. She knows:

Empathy is also politics.


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