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Diplomatic efforts in solving Donbas conflict means having conversation with Russia

Author : Elina Beketova

Respondent : Ernst Reichel

Source : 112 Ukraine

In an interview with Elina Beketova for her 112 International Insight show, the German Ambassador to Ukraine Ernst Reichel told of a possible Bundeswehr involvement in the peacekeeping mission in Donbas, of expectations of Ukrainian reforms, of the importance of Minsk agreements in order to achieve peace in the east of Ukraine.
12:16, 26 March 2018

112 Agency

- Mr. Ambassador, welcome to our show on 112-Ukraine!

- The first question concerns the election in Russia and the annexed Crimea. The President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko has stated that Kyiv would not recognize the Russian presidential election in the peninsula and would introduce sanctions on its organizers. Is Germany ready to join the non-recognition of this voting in Crime and the introduction of sanctions? (On 19 March, the European Union did not recognize the election results in the Russia-occupied Crimea and call on an investigation of violations reported by numerous observers).

- The Federal Republic of Germany has never recognized the annexation of Crimea. Any actions Russia may undertake there would be in violation of international law. The Russian presidential election is also a violation of international law.

- Let us talk about the new German government. We know that the new coalition agreement mentions Ukraine and the support of its territorial integrity. What does it mean for our country – a certain victory or just a formality?

- No, it is not a formality. This is a promise that the federal government gives to its voters in Germany, as well as to Ukraine itself. Such active position of Germany is here to stay, even though there is nothing new about that. This is because Germany has taken this stance ever since the beginning of the Crimea annexation, the start of the military conflict in the east of Ukraine, and we are going to continue acting in this direction. I would like to remind that there are probably no other leaders like our federal chancellor Merkel and the president of France Hollande, and now Macron, who would make such an active effort in order to solve the military conflict in the east of Ukraine. The coalition agreement you brought up says just that – Germany is going to continue contributing to solving the military conflict in the east of Ukraine.

- But there are, perhaps, certain expectations of Ukraine? Presumably, it is not just for Ukraine, but rather for the reforms that are anticipated to happen in Ukraine?

- Of course, and it is not just the Western countries that are expecting these reforms. It is also in the interests of the Ukrainian state, Ukrainian citizens, who are waiting for these reforms. These reforms are what makes Ukraine different from Russia. What I mean is… The Maidan and the policy that ensued as the result of it, have produced a great difference between Russia and Ukraine. This is why it is extremely important for Ukraine to continue these reforms, which are in line with European democratic values, and for Ukraine to curb any attempts to avoid these reforms. Here is an example – the introduction of e-declarations for anti-corruption activists. This obligation to submit electronic declarations is becoming effective on 1 April. Last Friday, the Venice commission published its judgment on this policy and said that it contradicts the social values based on democracy and human rights. Today is 19 March, and if a possibility of amending this law does not arise, it would seem necessary to, at least, postpone the deadline, when activists are required to submit these declarations, in order to bring the Ukrainian legislature in accordance with values of democracy and human rights.

Related: Germany ready to finance restoration of Donbas, - German Foreign Ministry

- On the anniversary of Minsk 2.0, the German Foreign Ministry said that very little had been done in terms of the execution of the Minsk agreements. What needs to be done in order to get things moving?

- Of course, we, just like Ukraine and its citizens, are rather frustrated because of the fact that the fighting is still going on along the delimitation line, people are still dying, both soldiers and civilians. First of all, genuine ceasefire needs to be achieved, heavy arms need to be disengaged. We are ready to take the responsibility, to take diplomatic measures, to make efforts in order to facilitate this. We have already said that there might be changes after the Russian presidential election, and we are going to keep an eye on that. However, I would like to repeat that when we talk about diplomatic measures, it means that we need to talk with Russia since it is obvious that this conflict cannot be solved without Russia. Diplomatic efforts mean engaging in a dialogue.

- Do you think that Russia could make certain concessions after the presidential election?

- I think the Minsk agreements have been in place for quite a while now. After certain events, we often thought that maybe now something would change in politics, in Russia’s approach. However, we, diplomats, should not give up, we need to remain optimistic in the hope that it is still possible to achieve something. This is why we still expect a reaction that would show that something in Russia’s approach to the Minsk agreements is changing. Nonetheless, let me add that it would be a great mistake to lose temper and to say that the agreements are not functioning. Because if that is the case, we would be left without a format of negotiation, without a foundation we could use as a base for something. Then we would go back to 2014, to an unregulated conflict. I do not think there is anybody in Ukraine who would be willing to go back to the 2014 situation.

- Let us get back to the coalition agreement during the formation of the German government. It specifically states that the United Nations peacekeeping mission should be responsible for maintaining peace in the region. Could Germany become part of it? Is the Bundeswehr involvement possible?

- First of all, we need to agree on what it should look like, how it should function. Because as of right now, there are very different opinions on the tasks this mission would need to execute and what its format should be. And, accordingly, in regards to the possible participation of the Bundeswehr, we need to wait for the outcome of the negotiations that are currently underway. Perhaps, you have noticed the fact that the two parties have a different understanding regarding which country could take part in such mission.

Related: Germany not satisfied with state of Minsk agreements implementation

- In this regard, is Germany among those countries who cannot participate or those who may get involved? 

- You are trying to get me to estimate the outcome of these negotiations, while I, unfortunately, am not able to answer that. You probably realize that the German policy towards the possible Bundeswehr involvement is going to be determined according to the conditions of the mission’s operation.

- Is it possible that the sanctions on Russia are lifted if it agrees to a peacekeeping mission throughout the Donbas region.

- This would not be consistent with the federal government of Germany as of right now, as we do not see the interconnection between the execution of the Minsk agreements and the lifting of sanctions off Russia. That is the interconnection international community sees in this. The position of the federal government is such that does not exclude the possibility of discussions regarding the lifting of sanctions. It is normal in a democratic state. Nonetheless, the position of the federal government is as I have described above.

- In an interview a year ago, you spoke about the election in Donbas. Particularly, you stressed the fact that everything would depend on the circumstances, which need to be made appropriate for the election to take place.  What has changed over this year? Or is it still impossible to hold an election in Donbas?

- I am still of the same position I described then. However, in regards to your question – no, there are no such changes that would enable elections to be held in Donbas.

- Will they become possible, once all the security issues and all other points of the Minsk agreements are executed?

- Certain prerequisites must be in place in order to hold free elections according to the OSCE standards. This means that many conditions must be met, I have said this in interviews.

- The infamous case of Skripal’s poisoning. Is Germany going to join the investigation?

- So far, nobody, I mean the UK government, has sought our participation in the investigation. Nonetheless, you know that the federal government supports the United Kingdom in this matter and we consider it a very serious case, which puts the health and well-being of not just these two individuals in jeopardy. The use of chemical weapons and nerve agents on a foreign soil is a very serious matter within the framework of international law.

- Should the United Kingdom request it, would Germany join the investigation?

- Possibly, but no such request has been received yet.

- Mr Ambassador, thank you for the interview. See you again on 112-Ukraine!

- Thank you very much.

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