By Alexander Ratz and Pavel Polityuk
KYIV (Reuters) – Germany Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock promised unequivocal support for Ukraine on Monday as she headed to Kyiv, which wants Berlin to do more to help it defend itself against a possible attack by Russia.
Ukrainian officials have publicly criticised Germany for refusing to sell defensive weapons to Kyiv and over its perceived reluctance to prevent gas flowing through the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia if Moscow launches an attack.
Baerbock’s visit to Kyiv, her second in three weeks, is one of a series by senior officials from NATO member states intended to show solidarity with Ukraine since Russia massed tens of thousands of troops near its borders.
Moscow says it has no plans to attack but is seeking Western security guarantees, including a promise that Ukraine will never join NATO, a demand that the military alliance has said is a non-starter. Western powers have threatened Russia with new sanctions if it launches an attack.
“During my visit to Kyiv, I will once again make it unmistakably clear where we stand: as Ukraine’s partner in the EU, NATO and G7, with no ifs and buts on the country’s territorial integrity and on the side of the people of Ukraine,” Baerbock said ahead of her arrival.
“Together we will respond to any further Russian aggression against Ukraine with tough, very concrete measures.”
Baerbock was due to hold talks in Kyiv one day before the arrival of French President Emmanuel Macron, who was scheduled to meet Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on Monday.
Germany and France are co-sponsors of peace talks between Ukraine and Russian-backed forces fighting a separatist conflict in eastern Ukraine since 2014.
Germany also has the closest economic ties to Moscow of any major Western power, buying half its natural gas from Russia. That has long given Berlin a strong incentive to keep relations with Moscow smooth.
Ukraine has pressed Germany for military hardware. According to a letter last week from the Ukrainian embassy, seen by Reuters, Kyiv is requesting anti-aircraft and anti-rocket systems, anti-drone weapons and demining equipment.
Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba said on Monday he would raise Germany’s stance with Baerbock.
“Germany has repeatedly and publicly explained this decision. We consider these explanations regarding Ukraine to be unfair. We believe that there is a wider space for Germany to act,” he told a briefing.
The crisis poses the first big foreign policy test for Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who took office last year after 16 years of leadership by Angela Merkel, and who faces division within his coalition over how to respond to Russian pressure.
Scholz meets U.S. President Joe Biden at the White House on Monday and will visit Kyiv next week.
(Additional reporting by Natalia Zinets in Kyiv and Andreas Rinke in Berlin; writing by Matthias Williams, editing by Timothy Heritage)
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