Mr President, fellow members of this House, ladies and gentlemen, for hundreds of years, relations among European countries were marked by rivalry, changing alliances and recurring rounds of horrendous bloodshed. We remember this most particularly in 2014, this year of anniversaries.
We are remembering the First World War, which broke out 100 years ago. It was the first great catastrophe of the 20th century and was soon followed by a second: the outbreak of the Second World War 75 years ago and the Shoah, that ultimate betrayal of all civilised values. That these horrors have been followed by more than half a century of peace, freedom and prosperity in most parts of Europe can still be considered a miracle. By embracing European integration, Europe has shown that it has learned the lessons from its painful history, initially in western Europe, and after 1989 beyond that. This year also marks the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the 10th anniversary of the start of the EU’s eastward enlargement. In the 21st century, European integration continues to represent the great promise of peace, freedom and prosperity.
The globalisation of our world – how we live, how we work and how we do business – has long since reached every last corner. Today more than seven billion people live on our planet. They all want to enjoy a measure of prosperity. No-one can confine themselves any longer to only watching out for their own interests. And anyone who does so will harm these interests in the short or long term. That applies to everyone. It applies to Germany and it applies to our neighbours. It even applies to a large and powerful country such as the United States, as well as to China and Russia. We are all, and indeed to an ever greater degree, interconnected – Russia, too.
This interconnection is demonstrated, inter alia, by the annual German-Russian intergovernmental consultations, the Petersburg dialogue, the German-Russian Raw Materials Forum, more than 20 bilateral agreements between Russia and the European Union, the CBSS, our cooperation with Russia in the G8 and the G20, the NATO-Russia Council, negotiating mandates in the Middle East peace process and in the talks with Iran on its nuclear programme and much, much more.
All of this is globalisation in action in the 21st century. It is indicative of our acknowledgement that all of us in Europe and beyond have to join forces to master major challenges we face. It shows that each one of us on our own will achieve less than if we all work together.
It is in this context, fellow members of this House, first in Georgia back in 2008 and now in the heart of Europe, in Ukraine, that we are witnessing a conflict about spheres of influence and territorial claims, such as those we know from the 19th and 20th century but thought we had put behind us.
It is very evident from three items of news from the last 14 days, however, that this is not the case:
27 February. The Crimean Parliament appointed a new government in a closed session during which it voted in favour of a referendum on the region’s future status, initially scheduled for 25 May. This was then brought forward to 30 March and finally to 16 March. This is a violation of Ukraine’s constitution, which prohibits referendums on secession in individual regions without the consent of the entire state.
1 March. At the request of President Putin, Russia’s Council of the Federation approved a contingency decision authorising military intervention in the Crimea in principle, after – it was claimed – Russia had been asked to provide assistance.
11 March. The Crimean Parliament voted in favour of the Crimea’s independence from Ukraine, an act intended to get round the ban on secession referendums anchored in the Ukrainian constitution.
Ladies and gentlemen, it is clear that Ukraine’s territorial integrity and thus its unity are being blatantly called into question and violated.
At a time of great uncertainty in Ukraine, Russia has not proven to be a partner for stability in its neighbouring country, with which it has close historical, cultural and economic ties. Instead, it is exploiting its weakness. The law of the strong is being pitted against the strength of the law, and one-sided geopolitical interests are being placed ahead of efforts to reach agreement and cooperation.
Actions modelled on those of the 19th and 20th century are thus being carried out in the 21st century. For let me say again: no-one, certainly not the European Union or countries such as the United States or even Russia, none of us can confine ourselves to only looking out for our own interests in the 21st century. Anyone who does so will harm these interests in the short or long term.
Without a doubt, what we are currently witnessing in the heart of Europe is disturbing. I fear we will need much patience to resolve this conflict. However, we can take up this major challenge for Europe with resolve. This is about the territorial integrity of a European neighbour, about respect for the principles of the United Nations, about principles and methods of accommodating conflicting interests in the 21st century.
As a comparison has been drawn with the Kosovo conflict by some during the last few days – and perhaps such a comparison will be made again in the course of this debate – I would like to comment briefly on this. After the international community had stood by more or less helplessly for years watching Milosevic’s so‑called ethnic cleansing wars in the territory of the former Yugoslavia, after the sanctions and negotiations had failed to have any impact, NATO decided to launch a military intervention without a UN mandate, also because Russia had blocked any resolution by the UN Security Council for such a mandate. I want to state quite clearly that the situation at that time cannot be compared in any way to that in Ukraine today.
But as I have addressed this – in my view – shameful comparison, I would like to state that the following must apply: Russia’s actions in Ukraine undoubtedly represent a violation of fundamental principles of international law. They would not be relativised by other international law violations.
They remain a violation of international law in the heart of Europe, and it is vital that we do not simply return to business as usual, and indeed we have not done so.
We have to find ways to defuse this tense and dangerous situation. The conflict cannot be resolved by military means. I say to everyone who is worried and concerned: military action is not an option for us.
Rather, this Government, along with our partners in the European Union and the United States, is pursuing a three-pronged political and economic approach.
First, we are working hard to establish an international observer mission and a contact or coordination group – whatever you want to call it. We are seeking through these means to find a political and diplomatic solution to the crisis.
The aim of the observer mission would be to examine claims and gain an objective picture of the situation throughout Ukraine. The aim of a contact group would be for international partners to help build a channel of communication between Moscow and Kyiv. Such talks would have to address all the issues which led to the current conflict or which could exacerbate it further in future. Naturally, the Crimea’s right to autonomy and language issues would also be discussed. However, one thing must be crystal clear: Ukraine’s territorial integrity is not negotiable.
In this connection, I want to stress that other states, such as the Republic of Moldova or Georgia, deserve our solidarity in such a situation.
Second, at their meeting on 6 March 2014, the Heads of State and Government of the European Union decided to provide Ukraine with substantial assistance. We welcomed the support programme totalling 11 billion euros put forward by the Commission. It also includes measures by the European promotional banks, the EIB and the EBRD. Swift assistance is now needed. And close coordination with the IMF is essential for EU assistance. An IMF and an EU delegation are already in Kyiv to gain a full picture of the situation in Ukraine and to draw up initial proposals on a possible support and reform programme.
Last week in Brussels, we decided together to sign the political section of the EU Association Agreement with Ukraine soon, which – above all – provides key impetus in the sphere of the development of the rule of law. The EU wants to make some of the economic advantages of the comprehensive free trade zone set out in the Agreement available in the short term through unilateral trade facilitations such as a reduction in duties.
In this situation it is, of course, also extremely important to foster contacts between people. We want to move faster on the negotiations on visa facilitations for Ukraine. Similarly, with regard to energy, the EU is prepared to assist Ukraine in strengthening its energy security, for instance by increasing the diversity of energy sources and transport methods and by modernising the system.
However, signals of solidarity from person to person will also be very important, especially in eastern Ukraine. Existing town twinning arrangements – of which there are a great number – and other contacts between civil societies can play a key role in this connection.
I would like to encourage those towns and cities in Germany, but also schools, universities and associations, with partners in Ukraine to step up contact at this particular time and see whether there is any way to provide practical help.
We are supporting the interim government in Kyiv in its aim to be a government for all Ukrainians. The task is to overcome divides, take the first steps towards economic stabilisation and make free and fair elections in May possible.
Ukraine should continue to be a place in which all citizens can live peacefully together, irrespective of what language they speak – Ukrainian, Russian, Tatar or one of the country’s other languages – and what faith they profess.
If the road through this transition is successfully steered, the European offer of a reform partnership can be realised, as set forth in the Association Agreement and the Deep and Comprehensive Free-Trade Agreement. This goal is very closely interwoven with the expectations voiced by the protesters on the Maidan: the strengthening of the rule of law, independence of the judiciary, increased transparency, less corruption and a further dismantling of barriers to trade. This offer of help with modernisation is a Neighbourhood Policy approach, not a geopolitical one. It is not directed against anyone.
I repeat in this context what I said here in the Bundestag on 18 November last year in my policy statement on the EU Eastern Partnership Summit, namely that neither the Eastern Partnership nor the bilateral agreements the EU wants to conclude with its partners are directed against Russia. We must – as I said on that occasion – continue to work to ensure that the Eastern Partnership countries are not faced with a stark either/or choice – either moving closer to the EU or responding to Russia’s efforts to forge a closer partnership with them.
Events in recent weeks seem to be blowing this aside. Nevertheless, the correct thing remains not to leave anything untried to continue to pursue this course, for which the EU has tabled concrete proposals.
By the way, Russia too has benefited from the strengthening and modernising of our eastern partners’ economies. And so naturally we feel we must discuss with Russia any supposed disadvantages for Ukrainian-Russian trade arising from Ukraine’s association with the EU. This includes working together with Russia to find ways to resolve outstanding conflicts in countries which are neighbours to us both.
This would also include talking with Russia about a new economic agreement.
Third, in the event, however, that Russia is not prepared to return to the path of cooperation and law, in the event that Russia remains unprepared to help deescalate the situation, the Heads of State and Government of the European Union decided at their meeting in Brussels last week on three steps that would be taken.
The first step is that we have suspended negotiations with Russia on visa matters as well as on a new agreement on the framework for EU-Russia relations. If negotiations do not start with Russia in the next few days – negotiations which produce results, not negotiations playing for time – the Foreign Ministers of the EU member states will move to the second stage and agree on further measures at their Council meeting this coming Monday, 17 March. These measures will include travel bans, asset freezes and the cancellation of the EU-Russia summit.
Fellow members of this House, I think I speak for all of you in taking this opportunity to thank our Foreign Minister, Frank-Walter Steinmeier. I thank him for his tireless efforts in seemingly endless, unfortunately also frustrating, talks, and for his unwavering commitment to our shared resolve to find a way out of the crisis.
It goes without saying that the next regular Council meeting of Heads of State and Government will of course be looking at the latest developments in Ukraine as well as the other points on the long-planned agenda on climate and energy issues.
In the event that Russia further destabilises the situation in Ukraine – we are seeing worrying developments in eastern Ukraine too – the Heads of State and Government decided at their meeting on 6 March on a third round of measures we would be ready to take. These could affect economic cooperation with Russia in many different ways.
To make it absolutely clear: none of us wants these measures to be taken. But we would all be ready and determined to take them if they become unavoidable.
All of us – that is the 28 member states of the European Union in very close coordination with our transatlantic partners and within the G7. Last week we decided in the G7 to suspend our participation in the preparations for the G8 Summit planned for June until the restoration of an atmosphere conducive to sensible talks in the G8 framework.
If Russia continues along its course of the past few weeks, it will not only be a catastrophe for Ukraine. We would not only regard it as a threat as neighbouring states of Russia. It would not only change the relationship of the European Union as a whole with Russia. No, it would, I am absolutely convinced, hugely damage Russia not least of all, both economically and politically. Because, and I cannot stress this often or firmly enough, the clock cannot be turned back. Conflicts of interest at the heart of the Europe of the 21st century can only be successfully resolved if we do not resort to the solutions of the 19th and 20th centuries.
They can be resolved only if we apply the principles and instruments of our age, the 21st century.
Equally, geopolitical strength can only be developed if we use the principles and instruments of our age. This presents so many more opportunities than threats for all of us in Europe and the world, including Russia. This is why the Federal Government takes a three-pronged approach – talks, assistance and sanctions – with Germany taking each new step in the current crisis in close coordination with our partners. I ask for your support in this.
Thank you very much.