Acting together to achieve peace
The Ukraine crisis is one of the greatest geopolitical challenges facing Europe today, 70 years after the end of the Second World War and 25 years after the end of the Cold War, said Chancellor Angela Merkel in a government statement in the German Bundestag.
"We believed that the thinking in terms of blocs and spheres of influence was over once and for all," said the Chancellor. But now, one year after the unconstitutional referendum in Crimea, the European Union is confronted with the difficult situation in Ukraine. The self-determination finally achieved by the states of Central and Eastern Europe 25 years ago is in danger.
Referendum a Russian tool
Angela Merkel analysed, "We knew then as we know today that the reasons given for this referendum were only a pretext. The referendum had one purpose and one purpose only – it was a means of wresting Crimea away from Ukraine, following a Russian plan. Russia was to gain Crimea – and that is just what happened."
The annexation of Crimea "was and is a contravention of international law," criticised the Chancellor. It contradicts the agreements in which Russia undertook to respect the integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine. This Russian action has called into question the very foundations of the European peace order.
Clear European response
Angela Merkel declared that she was happy "that Europe has responded clearly from the outset and continues to do so". Russia’s annexation of Crimea like its actions in eastern Ukraine challenge Europeans. Interests within the European Union vary, as does the degree of dependence of individual states on energy imports and trading links, but the EU has nevertheless mastered the challenge to this day, stressed the Chancellor.
"We have not let ourselves be divided. Through discussion, as is our way, we have arrived at joint decisions and we have stood by these decisions vis à vis third parties," said Angela Merkel. She included the EU’s transatlantic partners in this unanimity. She will be working with the entire German government to ensure that this does not change, she added.
Minsk agreements guide us
The Chancellor looked back at her joint initiative in February with French President François Hollande. Their main aim had been to end the bloodshed and the daily suffering of people in eastern Ukraine, she said. The package of measures agreed in Minsk by Russia, Ukraine and the pro-Russian separatists provides for a ceasefire and the withdrawal of heavy weapons, followed by further political steps to resolve the conflict.
"It was always clear that this process would not be without delays and setbacks, that it could be no more than a ray of hope. No more – but also no less," stressed Angela Merkel. Even if the ceasefire is still fragile, and the withdrawal of weapons is not yet being adequately monitored, at least "a start has been made".
All parties to the conflict must continue along this path until the last step laid out in the Minsk package of measures has been achieved. "And this will be when Ukraine once again takes back control over its own borders from Russia," demanded the Chancellor.
European values are the basis
Angela Merkel explained her position on Europe’s sanctions policy vis à vis Russia. We cannot lift the measures, which are due to expire in July and September "if only the first demands of the Minsk agreements have been met." Nor do we wish to, she stated clearly. "That would be wrong." She will thus be working to ensure that the duration of the sanctions are geared to the Minsk package of measures and to compliance with this."
The Chancellor confirmed, "I am convinced that we are thus acting in line with the European values which bring us together, and also in the interests of the people living in the affected areas. And we are making it very clear that we insist that the entire Minsk package be implemented."
Assistance for Ukraine
In view of the massive economic challenges facing Ukraine, Germany has pledged an additional bilateral credit facility worth 500 million euros. Over and above this, Germany is coordinating the engagement of the international community to assist Ukraine within the scope of the G7 Presidency, explained Angela Merkel.
The decision of the International Monetary Fund to extend 17.5 billion US dollars in loans to Ukraine, and EU pledges of another 1.8 billion euros, are "important contributions to stabilising the situation in Ukraine".
The EU member states, first and foremost Germany, have also significantly stepped up their humanitarian aid to the worst hit parts of eastern Ukraine, underlined the Chancellor.
With a view to the next Eastern Partnership summit to be held in Riga in May Angela Merkel declared that the crisis in Ukraine also affects relations between the EU and its other eastern neighbours.
"The goal is not accession to the European Union or NATO (the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation). The Eastern Partnership, and this has not changed, is not directed against anyone, including Russia," stressed the Chancellor. She very much regretted that fact that President Vladimir Putin has nevertheless made the decisions of individual states to enter into an Association Agreement with the EU into a "question of 'either or', for or against Russia".
The opposite is true. "It is not a question of 'either or', it is a question of good relations with both, which can only benefit all parties," underscored Angela Merkel. In this spirit, the EU will also confirm its offer of the Eastern Partnership.
Ukraine, Georgia and Moldova have entered into Association Agreements with the European Union within the framework of the Eastern Partnership. The aim of these agreements is to provide European support in establishing a properly functioning state based on the rule of law as well as a successful market economy.