On his trip to the three Baltic capitals, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has sought close liaison on the situation in Ukraine and further responses to the Crimea crisis. During his political talks, Steinmeier assured his Estonian, Latvian and Lithuanian partners that the German Government shared people’s concerns in view of political developments, understood the issue of Crimea breaking away and took that issue seriously. The people of the Baltic states, he said, did no stand alone; their concerns were shared by their partners in Europe.
In the light of the dramatic developments unfolding in Ukraine and the crisis in Crimea in particular, Foreign Minister Steinmeier is coordinating closely with international and European partners. The German Foreign Minister places special emphasis on finding a joint European response. To that end, Steinmeier engaged in intensive talks with Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania – close partners in both the EU and NATO – on Tuesday (11 March).
Firm anchors of the European community of values
The German Foreign Minister began his Tallinn visit with a morning meeting with President Toomas Hendrik Ilves and Foreign Minister Urmas Paet. Having last met his Estonian opposite number in Berlin little more than a month ago, he described these talks in Tallinn as a continuation – albeit under different circumstances given the serious movement towards crisis in recent days.
On his arrival in the Estonian capital on Monday morning, Foreign Minister Steinmeier said that the three Baltic states were “an important part of Europe and had soon after their independence become firm anchors of the European community of values”. “On their way into the European Union, the Baltic states mastered numerous challenges. For this, they deserve our recognition and respect,” Steinmeier went on.
During their discussions, Steinmeier and his hosts left no doubt about how very good and close bilateral relations are. Taking German-Estonian relations as an example, Steinmeier emphasised that they were not limited to European topics, having matured into valuable ties in the almost 25 years since independence.
Will not leave the Baltic states to face their concerns alone
Before their independence in 1991, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania were part of the Soviet Union. There are large Russian-speaking minorities in all three countries. In recent days, these countries have been particularly concerned about current developments in Ukraine and Russia’s actions with regard to Crimea.
Foreign Minister Steinmeier expressed understanding for this, saying, “We share responsibility today as partners in the EU and NATO. We share the concerns of our Baltic partners regarding the situation in Ukraine and Crimea, and we take them very seriously.”
Speaking about the European stance on the Crimea crisis, Steinmeier concluded that there was agreement within the EU on jointly seeking diplomatic ways of resolving the conflict “as long and as intensively as possible”. He said the EU had “not been aiming for confrontation” but endeavouring to avoid it.
Unacceptable under international law for Crimea to break away
Following his talks in Tallinn, Steinmeier travelled on to Riga in the morning, where he met President Andris Bērziņš and Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs for talks. Afterwards, he underscored the EU member states’ agreement that it would be “unacceptable under international law” for Crimea to break away.
Steinmeier also urged Russia to change course and “use the last possibilities that still remain to achieve a diplomatic solution, or at least de-escalate tensions”. Without that, he concluded, things between Europe and Russia would not be able to just carry on as before.
Responsibly preparing the European response
In the afternoon, Foreign Minister Steinmeier was in Lithuania for further talks. He met President Dalia Grybauskaité in Vilnius and used the opportunity for extensive talks in private.
Steinmeier’s visit to the Lithuanian capital fell on an auspicious day. Every year, 11 March is celebrated as the Day of Restoration of Independence from the former Soviet Union, with a national holiday and numerous commemorative events. This year’s celebrations reflected what had been happening in Ukraine. At the beginning of the morning ceremony, for example, there was a moment of remembrance for the victims of Independence Square.
At the end of his trip, Foreign Minister Steinmeier looked to the coming days in the political crisis surrounding the Crimean peninsula, which are likely to be significant:
If the process of separating Crimea from Ukraine continues and the referendum to be held at the weekend produces a result that is used to cut off Crimea from the Ukrainian state and incorporate it into Russian territory, we in Europe will, of course, have to respond.
What that meant in detail, he went on, was something to be discussed “by European Foreign Ministers very carefully and responsibly”. They would “make all the necessary preparations for any further decisions that may have to be taken by the European heads of government”, Steinmeier explained.