German minister vows to back Ukraine ‘no matter what voters think’

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Annalena Baerbock says supporting Kiev matters more than expected winter unrest

Even if Germans take to the streets over energy prices, Berlin must support Ukraine by maintaining anti-Russian sanctions, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock told a conference in Prague on Wednesday.

While much of the German cabinet was at a working retreat in Castle Meseberg outside Berlin, Baerbock was in Prague for a conference dubbed “Democracy’s Clear and Present Danger: How Do We Respond?” organized by the NGO Forum 2000.

“If I give the promise to people in Ukraine – ‘We stand with you, as long as you need us’ – then I want to deliver. No matter what my German voters think, but I want to deliver to the people of Ukraine,” Baerbock said at one point.

“I have to be clear that this holds on as long as Ukraine needs me,” she said, referring to the EU embargo against Russia.

“We are facing now wintertime, when we will be challenged as democratic politicians. People will go in the street and say ‘We cannot pay our energy prices’. And I will say ‘Yes I know, so we help you with social measures.’ But I don’t want to say ‘Ok then we stop the sanctions against Russia.’ We will stand with Ukraine, and this means the sanctions will stay also in wintertime, even if it gets really tough for politicians,” Baerbock concluded.

Baerbock’s fellow Green, Economy and Climate Change Minister Robert Habeck, told reporters on Wednesday that these “social measures” may include subsidies, a “changed market structure” for energy, and a budget that would shift the burden for electricity prices from the citizens, as well as possible price caps.

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Spiking energy prices – caused in part by Habeck’s disavowal of energy imports from Russia, on account of the conflict in Ukraine – have driven record-setting inflation in the EU, and Germany in particular. Natural gas prices on the spot market skyrocketed as Nord Stream 1 pipeline shut down for three-day maintenance on Wednesday.

In an opinion piece published Wednesday in Zeit, Baerbock argued there was “no going back” to the world before February 24, and that Germany and the EU will have to wage a long economic, sanctions and propaganda struggle against Russia.

“We have to face reality: this Russia will remain a threat to peace and security in Europe for the foreseeable future,” she wrote. Baerbock accused Moscow of threatening Europe’s “social peace” by sending “troll armies to undermine our elections” and using “power games” with coal, gas and oil, presenting the Greens’ long-standing environmentalist agenda as a matter of national security.

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