Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier believes it is possible that relations with Belarus will gradually be extended, as he indicated at a joint press conference with his Belarusian counterpart Vladimir Makei.
It was the first time in many years that a Belarusian Foreign Minister visited the Federal Foreign Office in Berlin. Foreign Minister Steinmeier thus also saw Wednesday’s meeting (18 November) with Makei as an important signal. He spoke of the “real possibility of relations between Belarus and the West gradually moving closer together”. Steinmeier: “This meeting this morning has also been possible because there has been a shift in Belarus.”
For Steinmeier, this shift found “significant expression” in the release of political prisoners in Belarus. Unlike in 2010, the presidential elections were also conducted peacefully even if they did not meet European standards in all respects.
Gesture of good faith by suspending sanctions
As Steinmeier outlined, there now needs to be an attempt to build the trust needed for the two sides to move closer together. Germany and the EU had given Belarus “a gesture of good faith” by suspending sanctions. Steinmeier emphasised that it was in the “joint interest” of Belarus and Europe to further “normalise relations”.
Ukraine: Ceasefire threatened
Alongside the extension of bilateral relations, Steinmeier and Makei also talked about the conflict in eastern Ukraine and progress on implementing the Minsk agreements. Steinmeier warned against hasty optimism saying, “Looking at the reality of the situation, we can see that things aren’t done and dusted.” The Minister believes there needs to be talks with Russia and Ukraine on how to “make the ceasefire truly hold without major violations”. After all, as Steinmeier went on to say, “the violations of the ceasefire continually threaten this process to bring about a peaceful settlement to the conflict”.
Syria: Working on a ceasefire
The Syria conflict was a further talking point. Concerning speculation about potential German involvement in a UN mission in Syria to secure a ceasefire, Steinmeier said, “I would be happy if we were at the stage now of thinking about who can secure the ceasefire in Syria”. For him, what we need to do now is create the conditions so that a ceasefire holds in at least parts of the country.