Germany has said it is prepared to pay "a high economic price" to defend its values, as NATO members engage in another week of intense diplomacy amid a Russian troop buildup close to the Ukrainian border.
Western nations have threatened Russia with crippling sanctions if it invades Ukraine.
Over 100,000 troops have been deployed in western Russia, along with tanks and other heavy weapons, some within tens of kilometers of the Ukrainian frontier. Kyiv and its Western allies fear another invasion is imminent, while the Kremlin claims the deployment is to guard against NATO's expansion.
Against that tense backdrop, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock met her Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, in Moscow Tuesday and said Germany would defend Europe's fundamental values.
"Those common rules are the foundation of our common European house. For Germany, they are our basis of existence. Therefore, we have no other option but to defend those common rules, even if this means paying a high economic price," Baerbock said.
Baerbock is from Germany's Green Party, which is part of the coalition government that took over from Chancellor Angela Merkel in early December. She is faced with an escalating crisis on Europe's eastern flank.
"More than 100,000 Russian soldiers with tanks and guns have gathered near Ukraine in recent weeks for no understandable reason. And it's hard not to see this as a threat," Baerbock said.
Lavrov dismissed those concerns.
"We don't threaten anybody with anything, but we do hear the threats addressed to us," Lavrov told reporters following the meeting. "We will act in accordance with concrete steps, concrete actions. And our reaction will be obviously predicated on what concrete steps our partners take," he added.
In talks with the U.S. earlier this month, Moscow demanded that NATO pull back its deployments in Eastern Europe and promise never to admit Ukraine as a member.
The United States and its allies dismissed those demands, and Russia refused to pull back its troops from the border.
"We explained that we cannot accept any demands regarding the actions of our armed forces on our own land," Foreign Minister Lavrov said.
Bilateral negotiations with the United States can resume only if Washington responds to Moscow's proposals on de-escalating the crisis, Lavrov added. The U.S. has already dismissed Russia's demands, and the negotiations appear deadlocked.
The German-Russian talks come amid another week of intense diplomacy.
U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken is due to visit Kyiv and Berlin, as the West aims to present a united front. NATO's Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg held talks with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz Tuesday in Berlin and reiterated the alliance position.
"The risk of a conflict is real. NATO allies call on Russia to de-escalate, and any further aggression will come with a high cost for Moscow," Stoltenberg told reporters.
Nord Stream 2
Germany said that cost could include the continued suspension of Nord Stream 2, the recently completed pipeline that could send Russian gas directly to Germany. Moscow is eager for the gas — and the money — to start flowing, says Filip Medunic, an expert on Russian energy at the European Council on Foreign Relations.
"If Ukraine is really going to go into a full-scale invasion, it will be difficult to argue for putting Nord Stream 2 in operation. What is sometimes forgotten is that the current status, if played well, does also give Europe some leverage," Medunic told VOA.
Meanwhile, Britain this week began delivering what it described as "light anti-armor weapons" to Ukraine. The United States has already supplied anti-tank weapons to Kyiv and has said the supply of military hardware would be stepped up if Russia invades.