German Bundestag: Speech by Federal Foreign Minister Steinmeier on Ukraine

May 7, 2014

Speech by Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier to the German Bundestag on the situation in Ukraine
-- Translation of advance text --

Mr President,

Ladies and gentlemen,

Colleagues,

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.

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.

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.

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 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.

This is why I am saying and writing- 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.

Last weekend we saw a brief glimmer of hope, or at least I viewed it as such. On Saturday, so to speak at the last minute – when the fights over Slavyansk had already begun – together with the OSCE we succeeded in securing the release of the 12 military inspectors, who are now thankfully with their families, safe and sound. That was a glimmer of hope for diplomacy. Despite the disputed situation in Slavyansk, and this is something which I considered impossible until the very last minute, a minimal degree of cooperation was possible, not only between our partners but between Kyiv and Moscow. That is why I thanked all those involved, in Kyiv, in Russia, in the OSCE and in particular someone who was sent in at the last minute – Russian diplomat Vladimir Lukin. They all helped to secure the release of those being detained and that is why I think this is the right time to express thanks.

I am saying this candidly because I have not fully understood some of the criticism that has been levelled at the OSCE recently. To be honest I have not fully understood why you would suddenly decide to rate the different OSCE missions, which are no recent invention, by different standards. The OSCE is a key accomplishment of the international security architecture of the 1970s, a child of the policy of détente.

The Vienna Document, which has given rise to so much speculation, provided the OSCE with an additional instrument of transparency at the beginning of the 1990s – that is all – an instrument which has been used time and again by all sides over the past 20 years, by Russia too. It was therefore correct that, in accordance with the Vienna Document, this mission was also on the ground in eastern Ukraine. Those who criticise this should consider what would have happened if these OSCE inspectors had not corrected the rumours that Russian armed forces had been present on Ukrainian soil right from the beginning of the crisis in Crimea. These rumours existed and were refuted by the OSCE’s military inspectors. That is why I want to clearly say that for me it is out of the question to rate the OSCE missions differently. They are all members of the big OSCE family. In fact, those who move in international security circles, who value the accomplishments of the policy of détente, ladies and gentlemen, should not and ought not criticise this.

So to conclude: just as it was right that, in accordance with the Vienna Document, the OSCE was present on the ground in the form of its mission, I think it is right that we continue on this path and gradually set up a monitoring observation mission. I consider it equally right for an ODIHR election observation mission to be set up simultaneously. This makes for three OSCE missions active within Ukraine under one umbrella – they are all trying to calm the situation on the ground and to prevent a further escalation of the situation.

Ladies and gentlemen, whoever does not want this, whoever considers other ways to be right or who voices the criticism that we could fail in this approach of de‑escalating the situation by means of diplomacy, is of course right – we might fail – but indeed they must think of the alternatives for a moment, and they are all so much worse. And that is why I am saying: giving up is not an option.

Thank you very much.

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