Saturday, May 10, 2014

Steinmeier on Ukraine

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier's recent intervention in the Ukraine debate, calling for a revived Geneva process, is here defended in a May 7 address to the German Bundestag. 

I would note two serious inadequacies of the German position. Though calling for a return to the April 17 agreement stipulating the withdrawal from illegally seized buildings, Steinmeier does not address the utterly contrasting interpretations given of this agreement by Western and Russian authorities. The latter insists it applies all over the country, the former only in the South and East.

Steinmeier also says nothing about restraining the efforts of the Kiev authorities to "annihilate" the "terrorists" who have seized public buildings in Ukraine's East (and to raise up a national guard formed of Euromaidan veterans, presumably including Right Sector and Svoboda elements, to be the spear carriers of this dubious enterprise). If the West intends to support such measures, the hope for a peaceful resolution radically diminishes, yet there is no official German dissent from the US position that  Ukraine's response to the seizure of public buildings in the East has been proportionate. Just blowing up the buildings in which insurgents are housed does not look like a winning political strategy; in fact, it is fraught with danger and clearly incompatible with calls to resolve the crisis through negotiation. If Germany wishes to play a mediating role--there is no one else--it needs to step up more forcefully and specify the terms of a de-escalation. It doesn't help to simply reiterate ambiguous formulas. 

This transcript is from the Federal Foreign Office, May 7, 2014

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To put it in a nutshell, the situation in eastern and southern Ukraine is terrible. Watching the news, we all witnessed the occupations of buildings, above all in Odessa last Friday, when at least 40 people died in a building after two groups had fled violence on the street. There were again brutal clashes between Ukrainian security forces and pro‑Russian separatists yesterday and in all likelihood there have been more over the course of today. People have been injured and have even died in Donetsk, Slavyansk and Odessa. There are Russian soldiers at the border with Ukraine and quite naturally many people are afraid that they could cross it at any time.

The reports we are receiving are alarming. These days we are all aware that the news is not only becoming ever worse, but it is worsening at an ever quicker pace. And to fan the flames further – the more dramatic the events are, the harsher the public rhetoric becomes. And although I am aware that what many of those involved are shouting out on political platforms often sounds much more pragmatic in the diplomatic sphere, action and rhetorical reaction are spiralling into a vicious circle. 

At some point we will reach the point of no return. Then on our continent, we really will be on the brink of a confrontation which for the last 25 years, since the end of the Cold War, we have deemed impossible.

I am not painting a gloomy picture of the situation, I am painting an accurate one. I am not doing so to spread fear but because here in Germany we must show that we are prepared to use all of the, not endless, options open to us to stand in the way of further escalation, and I really mean it: all diplomatic means to keep on forging ways out. I am convinced that it is not too late yet, reason can still gain the upper hand, but it can only do so if all those involved, above all those in Moscow and Kyiv, are prepared to resume the quest for a political solution. This is what we are struggling for every day.

(Applause from the SPD, the CDU/CSU and ALLIANCE 90/THE GREENS)

And I know, we do not have much time left. The presidential elections in Ukraine are scheduled for 25 May. And because there is not much time left, last Friday I met with the current Chair of the OSCE, Didier Burkhalter, in Switzerland in the morning and invited Catherine Ashton to Berlin at midday, and yesterday I flew to Vienna to meet the Ukrainian Foreign Minister and in the end also Sergey Lavrov, to start to prepare what I consider to be urgently necessary in the current situation and what I described in five short points in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung yesterday:

Firstly, I think that we need the four main powers who have already met in Geneva – Ukraine, Russia, the EU and the United States – to meet again. This is not because Geneva I failed but because nothing followed it to provide details of exactly how to implement the intelligent political agreement, step by step, in practice.

Secondly, we need to reach an understanding, and I mean an understanding with Russia too, that the elections scheduled for 25 May in Ukraine will indeed take place.

(Applause from the SPD, the CDU/CSU and ALLIANCE 90/THE GREENS)

Yesterday I used all of my powers of persuasion to reiterate to my Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, that it is precisely they, who themselves question the legitimacy of the current leadership in Ukraine, who should have the greatest interest in the top position within the political leadership being newly elected now. The question of parliamentary elections and the election of a new government can then be considered over the course of the year, but the presidential elections on 25 May should and must be the start of this process.

Thirdly, I believe that in order to properly hold the elections on 25 May, it is absolutely vital that by then we have initiated what has been lacking to date, namely a national dialogue. There are many plans to do this, but these plans must now be put into action. This can be done by convening conferences of mayors. This can be done by convening conferences of governors, with participants from all parts of Ukraine. This can be done, as has proven useful in other European countries in times of upheaval, by holding round table discussions, in this case with the participation of eastern and southern Ukraine and, where necessary, mediated by the OSCE.

Fourthly, we need to launch a process of constitutional reform in which all regions of the country feel properly represented within the institutions debating it.

Fifthly, we need a process which outlines steps to achieve the disarmament of all illegal groups and the clearance of public spaces and public buildings.

We need to agree on these five clear points and outline steps for their implementation. This can be done using the Geneva Statement of 17 April as a starting point. From the discussions which I have had about this, I have seen that no one actually rejects the idea of another Geneva meeting. However, before the next meeting, on concrete implementation steps, we cannot allow the bar to be raised further every day. What we need now is for the four participants to be able and willing to overcome the current hurdles, and this is what we are working on.

I know that diplomacy always advances too slowly, in baby steps. Of course I am aware that every occupation of a public building and every violent clash knocks us further back. But despite all disappointment, which I share, if we are knocked back by acts of violence, we must strive to bounce back and to continue pushing forward. This is why I have written that above all in this situation, giving up is not and cannot be an option.

(Applause from the SPD, the CDU/CSU and ALLIANCE 90/THE GREENS)

Now I know that all over the world, and in Europe too, voices continue to express different expectations of foreign policy. This is mirrored in the criticism that we are apparently not determined enough, that we should show more resolution, strength and more force in our foreign policy. One could say that. Except that you have to be very clear about what the alternative is. And what exactly would it be, beyond diplomatic pressure? Anyone who really wants to show this alleged strength must be prepared to do something which I am not prepared to do, namely to countenance the idea of using force in such a situation. I know that the majority of this house agrees with me that a military solution would not lead to a settlement but rather to a huge catastrophe.

(Applause from the SPD, the CDU/CSU, DIE LINKE and ALLIANCE 90/THE GREENS)

This is why I am saying and writing –

(MP Christine Buchholz (DIE LINKE) shouts out) –

wherever I can – even in the face of your criticism – that this talk of strength is not what counts here. It is not strength or weakness that determines such situations but good sense. At the end of the day, foreign policy which only thinks in terms of the strong and the weak only aims to produce but winners and losers. Wise foreign policy, and this is what we need in the current situation, thinks ahead to conflict resolution. Wise foreign policy, therefore, knows that we must avoid automatic reactions, that we must avoid an escalation which would ultimately produce nothing but losers. . . .

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