BERLIN: German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock arrived in Ukraine on Monday ahead of a planned visit to Russia, as part of international efforts to address spiralling tensions between Moscow and the West.
"A prerequisite for diplomacy is to understand your counterpart's point of view, even if you sometimes have completely opposite opinions. That is why inaugural visits like these are important, especially in such difficult times," Baerbock said upon departing for her first trip to the countries since taking office in December.
She vowed to listen carefully to what representatives have to say both in Kiev and in Moscow.
The minister said she would make clear the unified positions of the European Union, the G7 nations and the trans-Atlantic alliance.
At the start of her Ukraine visit, Baerbock met with representatives of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe's (OSCE) observer mission there.
In addition to talks with German mission staff, a meeting with the special representative of the OSCE chairmanship in Ukraine, Mikko Kinnunen, was also on the agenda in Kiev.
Afterwards, Baerbock is scheduled to visit the memorial to the "Heavenly Hundred" in central Kiev, where those killed in the pro-EU protests of 2014 are commemorated.
Germany's top diplomat is scheduled to meet her Ukrainian counterpart, Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, and President Volodymyr Zelensky later Monday.
In the evening, Baerbock is set to travel onwards to Moscow, where, among other things, talks with Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov are scheduled for Tuesday.
The talks comes amid a major build-up of Russian troops near the border of eastern Ukraine, prompting fears of a possible invasion akin to Russia's annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Baerbock is also expected to discuss Kiev's request for Germany to deliver arms and that it pull the plug on the controversial Nord Stream 2 project, a pipeline ready to go into commission that would deliver natural gas from Russia to Germany.
The German foreign minister is also expected to campaign for a resumption of talks under the four-way Normandy format, which brings Moscow and Kiev to the table with Berlin and Paris as mediators. The last such meeting took place in Paris in 2019.
German deputy government spokeswoman Christiane Hoffmann said on Friday there was cautious optimism regarding a return to the format, initially at the level of diplomatic advisers.
Baerbock's trip to Ukraine comes on the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between the two countries.
In her statement on departure, she said this was a "good opportunity for an update" and vowed to work on strengthening Ukraine's potential.
"I therefore want to talk about initiatives for the sustainable modernization of the Ukrainian energy sector," she said. To that end, plans to develop hydrogen power and bolster cyber defences are also on the agenda in Kiev.
Regarding relations with Moscow, Baerbock's tone was much cooler.
"As a new federal government, we want substantial and stable relations with Russia," she said, while adding, "The list of conflict issues we have to talk about is long."
Among other things, a 2019 murder in Berlin allegedly ordered by the Russian state and the poisoning of Russian dissident Alexei Navalny have taken a toll on Berlin-Moscow relations in recent years.