Annalina Berbuk is the number one defender of Ukraine in Germany

“Time is running out,” Annalina Berbuk said on Tuesday on a rattling train between Kharkov and Kiev. “If you talk to students, doctors and soldiers: everything is needed here to save more lives.”

The liberated German foreign minister visited Kharkov, near the border with Russia, with fellow Ukrainian Dmytro Kuleba. She said she was there to learn what it would cost to liberate the city. In the aisle of the train, her elbow resting on the back of the seat for stability, Berbock answered some questions on German television news. After her visit, a member of the State Duma asked on Russian national television whether precision weapons might not be available to shoot the minister.

Annalena Baerbock (42 years old) never gets tired of telling Germany about the need in Ukraine. In Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s (SPD) cabinet, Berbock (the Greens) called for more money and arms for Ukraine, in consultation with European partners. Its demands are clear this Tuesday, even though Germany had promised a series of infantry fighting vehicles shortly before: “More armored vehicles, more anti-aircraft vehicles.”

Just two months before the Russian invasion of Ukraine, Barbock became a minister, making her first visits to Moscow and Kiev. Her ministry is inevitably dominated by war. Furthermore, Berbock seems determined to share it in correcting the course of its predecessors, who paid little attention to the interests of the Eastern European states or Ukraine, instead doing business with Russia. in conversation with Norwegian Refugee Council “My view of the Ukraine war has been deeply influenced by the great skepticism of our partners in Eastern Europe about the work of previous governments,” Berbock says. “We need to restore the trust we lost in the past.”

Berbock largely interprets the “Zeitenwende” report, in which Germany is re-evaluating its relationship with its decades-old pacifist approach, defense must be upgraded, and arms deliveries to Ukraine possible.

After her visit to Kharkov, Berbock was still in Ethiopia, and next week she will be in The Hague. In the first week of January, Berbuck traveled to Lisbon to speak with her Portuguese colleague, Norwegian Refugee Council flew along. On her trips abroad—Burbock made more than fifty in one year—she always took a few correspondents with her on the government plane.

Annalina Berbock became Germany’s first female foreign minister in December 2021 after a long career in her own party and a failed election campaign for the chancellorship. Growing up in a village near Hanover, her parents took her to demonstrations against nuclear energy and missiles as a child. Berbock studied political science and international law, rising from employee of the Bundestag to chairman of the Green Party of Brandenburg and then a member of the Bundestag to co-chairman of the national Green Party, along with Robert Habeck, now Minister for Economics. In April 2021, she became the first candidate for chancellor of the Green Party, the party was in first place in opinion polls at the time.

The fact that the Greens ended up in third place after the election was due in part to the controversy surrounding the party’s leader, Burbock. There were inconsistencies in her biography; For example, a German introduction to a bachelor’s degree is incorrectly rendered as a bachelor’s degree. In the book that Barbock published to launch her campaign, it transpired that portions of other publications had been taken without acknowledgment. Barbock is no longer on the defensive.

On the campaign trail, Burbock said she wanted to be a “humane and empathetic” politician, in a speech at the time saying that “others […] Stand for the status quo.” This message was not heard in the campaign. As a minister, Berbock nevertheless makes the promise of a more modern political style, and she knows how to convince voters and colleagues. Berbock is the most popular politician in Germany at the moment.

Barbuk visits the destroyed part of Kharkiv on January 10.
EPA photo

Praise and applause

Also in Lisbon, after a speech at a conference of Portuguese ambassadors, Burbock, dressed in a fuchsia trouser suit, was applauded and applauded. The gray-haired interrogators begin their sentences with “As you said…” or “As you put it so aptly…”. Burbock’s answers are full of detail and come at an unstoppable pace. At one point she herself said:Short and sharpLike our good friend Josep Borrell [de Spaanse hoge vertegenwoordiger voor Buitenlandse Zaken van de EU, red.] I always say, not the best adjective for me.”

Someone asks about Birbock’s “feminist foreign policy,” one of its main pillars, also enshrined in the coalition agreement. “We copied it from the Swedes,” Burbock admits right away. We are looking for loopholes in international law when it comes to equal rights between men and women. For example, if you want to formulate a resolution at the United Nations: if you start talking only about the right to self-determination of the body, or about health or sexual rights: you will immediately lose all interest, even from some European countries. So we focus on that.”

In addition, under Baerbock, care is taken that development aid budgets are distributed “gender-consciously”, that positions in the ministry are proportionally allocated and that travel delegations are made up of an equal number of men and women. “Only the accompanying journalists spoil my share sometimes,” said Burbock. “And on every trip I try to visit girls in gyms and women in women’s homes. Because I know what it was like when I first saw Madeleine Albright (the first US Secretary of State from 1997 to 2001) as a 12-year-old girl. That changed something for me. for me “.

In Lisbon, Barbock visits an aquarium with three school children and their mothers as part of a European project to clean up the seas. Whisper “burbock” when you talk to the kids. Children, louder, want to know if she likes sharks or stingrays more. Behind the pane of glass in front of them, a myriad of sharks swim in circles. Barbock prefers full sun.

Opposition leader Friedrich Merz (CDU) mocked Baerbock’s feminist foreign policy last March, saying it wouldn’t matter in wartime. Berbock reacted very heatedly behind the microphone in the Bundestag. She had returned from a trip to Bosnia a few days earlier. Barbock: The mothers of Srebrenica described how they carried the scars of war with them. They said, “Mrs. Burbock, nothing was being done at that time.” In the 90s, when their daughters and girlfriends were raped. Rape has not been recognized as a war crime, nor has it been prosecuted by the International Court of Justice. This is why the feminist perspective is part of security politics for the 21st century.”

If drinking vodka at noon is a sign of hardness…

Annalina Burbock German minister

Barbock encountered the male norm in foreign policy soon after taking office. She had barely been in office for a month when she made a trip to Moscow in January 2022 to meet with fellow Russian Sergei Lavrov. for a weekly magazine woman She told Barbock about an aperitif Lavrov gave her before lunch after a conversation: vodka. Lavrov insisted on refusing Berbuk. In Burbock’s version, she then replies: “If drinking vodka at noon was a sign of toughness… I’ve had two children.”

In addition to feminist foreign policy, “values-oriented” politics is a core concept for Bierbock. In a background conversation with several journalists in December, Burbock reacts sensitively when a questioner suggests that such werteorientierte Aussenpolitik Not realpolitik. In the Airplane, Burbock retorts: “Values ​​like democracy, the rule of law, and freedom of the press: we defend them primarily out of sheer self-interest. Moreover: If you dismiss value-based politics as not realpolitik, you are making it too easy on yourself.” Then you don’t have to raise issues that might encounter resistance.”

side effects

Previous governments have been guilty of this, says Burbock: “It would have been easier to do no harm by being absolutely silent. [een argument van Angela Merkel, en later ook van kanselier Olaf Scholz, red.], so that you do not have to get involved in controversial political debate. an excuse. At that time you might not have had a problem with Russia, but you also didn’t see how Eastern Europe was offended.”

This week, international pressure mounted on Olaf Schultz to deliver Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine. Scholz seems to be waiting to see if the US will come up with such tanks. Schulz, among other things, is discouraged by his own party, the Social Democrats, which this week put out a memorandum calling for more diplomatic attacks and in which there is no point for more weapons.

Also read this story: Ukraine will get those Western tanks, but only if there is a transatlantic agreement

Schulz and Barbock are not on the same page in the other files: Barbock publicly criticized Schulz’ moment of controversial trip to China, urging him to broach difficult topics with Xi Jinping. Commentators point to the risk that Scholz, but more likely Baerbock, will no longer be dealt with if the two continue to interpret different policies.

Germany’s “Zeitenwende” seems to be taking hold faster on the greens than Scholz’s SPD, though a massive turn for the greens. The party stems largely from a movement that protested nuclear weapons and nuclear power, as did Burbock’s parents. And soon Berbock herself amended her views: in January last year she still did not want to supply weapons as, for example, her party colleague and now cabinet colleague Robert Habeck, who was a pioneer among the Greens.

In Lisbon, Berbock describes the Zeitenwende as “a way of self-reflection for our country. Because we were wrong on many dossiers. When I speak to my colleagues from the Baltics, I must apologize that we did not listen to them when they said that our policy towards Russia was not particularly forward-looking.” Baerbock wants to do it differently. And to ensure that Germany and Europe did not consider the war to be normal, even if it did not fear anything special, it should itself report on it from Kharkov.

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