Sigmar Gabriel has far-reaching goals for his inaugural term as foreign minister. During a visit to Moscow on Thursday, he talked of the need for disarmament to soothe relations between Russia and NATO, but also as the first step in ending ongoing crisis in eastern Ukraine.
He told reporters that “exorbitant military increases” was not the answer to the troubled relationship between Russia and the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, or NATO. He warned that “large numbers of armed troops … in the Baltic states and Poland” could put the world in danger of a “new arms race spiral,” after meeting with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov.
“We urgently need new initiatives for peace and security,” Mr. Gabriel said.
Mr. Gabriel’s first visit to Russia as foreign minister comes just six weeks after taking up the post. He has not wasted in any time in pushing for continue four-way efforts by Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine to implement the Minsk peace process for Ukraine, and to foster better relations between Russian officials and NATO.
However, the ex-economy minister’s work may be cut out for him – or at the very least, it appears that way.
Over recent months, NATO has invested in it biggest deployment on Russia’s borders since the Cold War. It follows a promise last July to support the alliance’s ex-Soviet member states by deterring Russian aggression, after the unlawful annexation of Crimea in 2014.
There are currently 4,000-some NATO troops stationed in Poland and the Baltic States. The German army, the Bundeswehr, has a battalion in central Lithuania, about 100 kilometers from the Russian border.
Russia has also moved troops to its western border and talk of stationing rockets in the Kaliningrad exclave, which can be equipped with atomic warheads with a range extending to Berlin.
Mr. Gabriel emphasized his views in an interview with Russian news agency Interfax on Wednesday, calling for “a relapse into the Cold War era” to be prevented “at all costs.” He said that Russia and NATO must talk more regularly. The military alliance had previously suspended talks with Moscow after Crimea’s annexation, and only three meetings of the NATO-Russia Council took place last year.
In his new post, Mr. Gabriel will now join discussions centered around achieving a lasting implementation of the Minsk ceasefire agreement in Ukraine. The conflict between Ukrainian forces and Russian-backed separatists has already killed 10,000 people since 2014, with more violent fighting reported in recent weeks.