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Crisis in Ukraine

Russia must withdraw troops

The EU’s package of sanctions is in force, but the situation along the Russian-Ukrainian border remains tense. Russia is still called on to make every effort to de-escalate the situation and to withdraw its additional troops from the border, said deputy government spokesperson Christiane Wirtz.

The German government has repeatedly pointed out, "that the massive presence of troops at the border is not helping de-escalate the situation," said Christiane Wirtz in Berlin. "The German government would thus naturally welcome a withdrawal of the Russian troops from the border in this area."

The aim must now to be to continue political talks and through the Contact Group "to stabilise and further de-escalate the situation," added Christiane Wirtz. "The presence of troops in the area is not a step towards making the situation more peaceful."

The combination of a large-scale military exercise and troop concentration does not, in the opinion of the German government, "particularly help bring about the called for de-escalation," said the deputy spokesperson of the Federal Foreign Office, Sewsan Chebli. Russia is still called on "to do nothing that could further destabilise the situation in Ukraine" or lead to any further escalation. "We demand the greatest possible transparency," declared Sewsan Chebli.

Humanitarian situation critical

With a view to the alleged 730,000 refugees, Christiane Wirtz made it quite clear that these are not the figures of UNHCR (the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees), but figures the organisation has been given by the Russian authorities. "The UNHCR does not have any first-hand figures for the number of refugees that have left Ukraine for Russia." There is "currently no legal basis" for a humanitarian UN mission, as demanded by Russia, said Christiane Wirtz. In an interview at the weekend this was already stated by Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier.

According to the information of the UN, the humanitarian situation in eastern Ukraine, which has seen heavy fighting, is deteriorating further every day. "We are talking about 3.9 million people who live in a region plagued by violence," said John Ging Director of the Coordination and Response Division at the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) at a special meeting of the United Nations Security Council on 5 August. He reported that the infrastructure has been destroyed, there is practically no electricity and water is available for only a few hours a day. Since the start of the conflict 1,376 people have been killed and more than 4,000 injured.

Restrictive defence equipment policy

In the wake of the EU sanctions, the German government has revoked licences for the export of a combat training centre to Russia. This was confirmed by the Federal Economics Ministry Spokesperson, Tanja Alemany, on Monday in Berlin.

The formal revocation of the license creates a clear-cut legal situation for the company affected. The German government is thus continuing its consistent restrictive arms exports policy, and even going one step further than required under the EU sanctions now in place.

In detail the EU measures entail the following:

- The EU is to impose an arms embargo on Russia.
- Access to the EU capital market is to be made significantly more difficult for state-controlled Russian banks.
- High-tech goods for the oil industry may no longer be exported to Russia.
- Dual use goods may no longer be supplied to military customers in Russia.

The package of measures was based on the texts drawn up by the European Commission by 28 July.

Impacts of the sanctions

On Wednesday deputy government spokesperson Christiane Wirtz stressed, "that the European Commission does offer assistance for special cases and special situations".

Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier commented on the impacts of sanctions on the German economy in a newspaper interview on Sunday. "It should surprise nobody that sanctions come at a price – especially those who have for months been declaring that harsh sanctions are a test of the credibility of European politics. The German government is in touch with the German private sector, I have been in contact with businesses since March, so as to keep the consequences to a calculable level at least. It should also be possible to adapt and scale back sanctions if political progress is made in efforts to resolve the conflict, he added.

Frank-Walter Steinmeier is convinced that there can only be a political solution to the conflict with the support of Moscow. "That is why, in spite of all difficulties, we are keeping channels to Russia open". "Experience shows that whoever increases political pressure to convince the other side to negotiate, must himself also be willing to negotiate."

EU action to date against Russia
On 17 March the European Council put a total of 21 individuals on a black list, or sanctions list. A decision of principle taken at the European Council meeting on 16 July gave foreign ministers a framework for more specific decisions.
On 22 July the EU foreign ministers met in Brussels to discuss stepping up sanctions on Russia. Coreper was mandated with elaborating these. Coreper is the intermediary level of the European Council. It consists of representatives of member states who represent their country and have the rank of ambassador to the EU.
On 24 July, Coreper decided to extend the existing black list to include high-ranking intelligence service and security staff. The next day a list of 15 individuals and 18 companies and organisations was published in the Official Journal of the European Union, thus bringing the measures into effect immediately.
On 25 July the representatives of the 28 EU governments in Coreper also agreed on additional economic sanctions. They charged the Commission to present the wording of the regulations for the measure by 28 July.
On 29 July Coreper adopted a package of measures. These have now been formally approved by the 28 EU member states.
On 1 August the sanctions came into force.

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