The day after the illegal referenda on the secession of Donetsk and Lugansk, the situation in Ukraine was the focus of the meeting in Brussels. The 28 EU Foreign Ministers adopted new sanctions against Russia. Other issues discussed at the Foreign Affairs Council were the Middle East peace process and the European Neighbourhood Policy.
At the start of the Foreign Affairs Council in Brussels, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier reaffirmed that everything must be done in the current situation to defuse the crisis. He stated that, to this end, it was necessary to grant the OSCE a more prominent role in order to foster a national dialogue in Ukraine.
Steinmeier: Referendum is illegal
Steinmeier announced that he intended to travel to Kyiv as well as eastern or southern Ukraine tomorrow (13 May) to try and build bridges between the various camps. He said it would be exceptionally difficult in the current situation but that it was the only way to bring about de‑escalation. Referring to yesterday’s referendum by pro‑Russian activists on the secession of Donetsk and Lugansk regions in eastern Ukraine, the German Foreign Minister went on to say:
Yesterday’s referendum is illegal. Anyone who saw the images this evening and the alleged results, will know that this cannot, and indeed should not, be taken seriously, at least not by us. But that should not deter us from continuing our efforts.
National dialogue in the form of round tables
Didier Burkhalter, the OCSE Chairperson-in-Office and Swiss President, presented a road map on the de‑escalation of the crisis in Ukraine to the EU Foreign Ministers. This plan is intended to end the violence, disarm illegal groups and initiate a national dialogue in the form of round tables. The first round table of this kind is due to take place this Wednesday (14 May). Alongside a respected Ukrainian figure, the former German diplomat Wolfgang Ischinger is to take part as the OSCE representative and act as co‑chair.
At his press conference, Steinmeier said he hoped the initiative for a round table in Ukraine would calm the crisis in Ukraine. “The crucial question now is whether it is possible to kick off this process in the next few days”, said the Foreign Minister and added that the atmosphere in Ukraine could then change again.
He went on to say that the readiness of both the Government in Kyiv and representatives from eastern Ukraine was equally vital if a national dialogue was to be established. With regard to the participation of separatist forces, Steinmeier reaffirmed his belief that “those who have blood on their hands do not usually take part in a round table”.
Furthermore, Steinmeier expressly welcomed the appointment of Wolfgang Ischinger to act as mediator between the parties to the conflict.
Wolfgang Ischinger is not only a good choice but also a top German diplomat with a wide range of experience. He conducted the difficult talks about the future of Kosovo on our behalf. He thus has experience with difficult situations where the differences appear to be almost irreconcilable.
What is more, Wolfgang Ischinger has built up extensive relations with all relevant partners in the last years as Chairman of the Munich Security Conference. I believe that will be useful.
Extension of the sanctions
The EU Foreign Ministers also tightened the existing sanctions against Russia. In reaction to the secession and annexation of Crimea, visa bans and asset freezes in the EU were imposed on another 13 prominent figures. Furthermore, the assets of two companies said to have profited from the annexation of Crimea were frozen. Visa bans were already in place for 48 Ukrainians and Russians. Steinmeier stated that further-reaching sanctions against Russia would have to be discussed if the presidential elections scheduled for 25 May are disrupted or stopped.
Other issues: Middle East peace process and the Neighbourhood Policy
The further development of the European Neighbourhood Policy (ENP) and the Middle East peace process were also discussed at the Foreign Affairs Council. In the light of the stalled mediation efforts by the US, the EU Foreign Ministers discussed ways of continuing the talks between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. Moreover, they adopted Council conclusions on the EU policy on the Arctic region, the establishment of a human rights dialogue between the EU and Myanmar as well as the Comprehensive Approach, which is intended to ensure a more coherent EU foreign policy.