The protests against the Ukrainian Government grew across the country at the weekend. Foreign Minister Steinmeier affirmed that the next few days could decide Ukraine’s future, averring that the last remaining chances of a political solution had not yet been exhausted. The Ukrainian parliament intends to debate what political line to take in a special session on Tuesday.
On Sunday, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier expressed his great concern at the televised images emerging from Ukraine:
The situation is not just tense; it is really serious. The next few days could decide in what direction Ukraine is going to take its future. (...) It is my belief that, however difficult the situation may be, the last remaining chances of a political solution have not yet been exhausted. They need to be sought.
The Foreign Minister saw clear ways of starting that search, saying that the new laws restricting freedom of the press and freedom of assembly needed to be withdrawn or at least fundamentally altered. The Verkhovna Rada, the Ukrainian parliament, will convene tomorrow (Tuesday). That, in Steinmeier’s words, “will be an opportunity for Ukraine’s political leaders to demonstrate sincerity in their offers to the Opposition.”
On Monday, the Federal Foreign Office Spokesperson called on the political leaders in Kyiv to “get down to business” and follow up their pronouncements with action.
Talks at the highest level
Direct talks were already being conducted at the highest level last week, with the German Government condemning the violence in Kyiv. Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel called on President Yanukovych to engage in “serious dialogue” with the Opposition. Foreign Minister Steinmeier has spoken to his Ukrainian counterpart Leonid Kozhara several times, urging him to stop the violence against peaceful demonstrators. Minister Steinmeier has also spoken on the phone to Ukrainian Opposition leaders Arseniy Yatsenjuk and Vitali Klitschko, Polish Foreign Minister Radosław Sikorski and Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.
Government must protect peaceful demonstrators
On the margins of the Syria peace conference in Montreux, Steinmeier stated that he could understand the Ukrainian Opposition’s sense of frustration when they had been feeling for days and weeks that the Government had not given any meaningful ground. Nevertheless, he went on:
We hold and will stand by the view that violence is not a solution. We direct that message to both sides. To President Yanukovych, however, we also clearly state that it will not do to make the response of Ukraine’s leaders a violent one that brings more people to harm. The Government has a duty to protect the peaceful demonstrations.
Ukrainian Ambassador summoned to Federal Foreign Office
The Ukrainian Ambassador Pavlo Klimkin was summoned to the Federal Foreign Office last Friday. The German Government’s position was once again made clear to him. He was told that the use of force had to be stopped; moreover the laws that had been hastily adopted had to be seriously re-examined. Martin Schäfer, the Federal Foreign Office Spokesperson, said that the Ukrainian Ambassador was expected to swiftly inform his Government of this position.
EU mediation efforts
Talks are also being pursued at the multilateral level. The European Union wants to play a more prominent role with regard to the Ukrainian crisis. EU Enlargement Commissioner Stefan Füle and High Representative Catherine Ashton intend to travel to the Ukrainian capital this week for talks with the parties to the conflict.
The protests in Kyiv’s Independence Square, which have been going on for more than two months, escalated once again last week after President Yanukovych rushed through new laws restricting freedom of the press and freedom of assembly. Foreign Minister Steinmeier subsequently reiterated his view that the route taken by President Yanukovych was a dead end and that repression cannot be the response to a politically contentious debate. The demonstrations were originally triggered by President Yanukovych’s refusal to sign the free-trade agreement between Ukraine and the European Union because he wants to forge closer ties between his country and Russia.