Ukraine at a crossroads

04.02.2014 - Article

Foreign Minister Steinmeier calls on Ukraine’s leaders to put into practice what they have pledged. Although a little progress has been made, Steinmeier warns both sides against playing with fire around the “powder keg”.

Though some small advances have been made in recent days, the situation, as Foreign Minister Steinmeier sees it, remains highly complex and volatile. He is therefore calling on the two sides not to play with fire around the “powder keg”, as he described Ukraine. The Government, he said, now had to put what it had pledged into practice in a meaningful way to allow the country to move towards a political solution.

Not much time to implement pledges

Foreign Minister Steinmeier at the Munich Security Conference
Foreign Minister Steinmeier at the Munich Security Conference© Photothek/Gottschalk

The spotlight was on the crisis in Ukraine at this year’s Munich Security Conference as well. The international community is looking intensively at the issue of a political solution to the conflict about the country’s future direction, which has been ongoing for two months now. On the margins of the conference, Foreign Minister Steinmeier met his Ukrainian counterpart, Leonid Kozhara, and representatives of the Opposition. He issued the following statement to the Bild am Sonntag newspaper (2 February) on the subject of those talks:

Vitali Klitschko and Arseniy Yatsenyuk deserve our respect for their courage in fighting for a peaceful solution in Kyiv. The two sides, President and Opposition, need to find a way out of the crisis. President Yanukovych needs to put into practice what he has pledged. There is not much time left for that to happen.

Steinmeier convinced that political solution is possible

At the beginning of the conference, Foreign Minister Steinmeier had already spoken to his Ukrainian counterpart to advocate that opposition activist Dmytro Bulatov be permitted to travel to Europe for medical treatment. He had been very severely injured and apparently tortured the previous week. Following the two Foreign Ministers’ talks, Bulatov was able to leave the country on Sunday. Foreign Minister Steinmeier welcomed the decision.

Protests in Kyiv continue
Protests in Kyiv continue© dpa/picture alliance

The Ukrainian Government resigned last week and only remains in place in an interim capacity. The parliament has also revoked the law restricting political involvement. Contact between the two conflict parties was reestablished on Monday, and Foreign Minister Steinmeier stressed in the evening’s news programme Tagesthemen that there may have been some small advances made. The possibility of releasing prisoners had been among the topics discussed, he said. Steinmeier nonetheless warned that the hardest part was yet to come.

Foreign Minister Steinmeier had previously emphasised his conviction that the confrontation could be settled by political means during a press conference with his Turkish opposite number, Ahmet Davutoğlu. He went on to issue the following statement:

But now we have reached a crossroads. We now need a change in the constitutional situation which adjusts the balance of the rights of the President and the Prime Minister so that they are more in line with the constitution which was in force until 2004.

Economic prospects needed

Despite freezing temperatures, demonstrations continue
Despite freezing temperatures, demonstrations continue© dpa/picture alliance

However, Steinmeier furthermore warned that Ukraine must not be allowed to descend into economic chaos after a political solution had been achieved. He reported having discussed the matter with US Secretary of State John Kerry and EU High Representative Catherine Ashton in Munich at the weekend. International efforts, he said, must allow Ukraine to go down a path which offered “economic prospects for the future”.

The protests in Kyiv’s Independence Square, ongoing for more than two months, saw further escalation recently. Four people were killed and several hundred injured. The demonstrations against the Government were triggered by President Yanukovych’s refusal to sign the free-trade agreement between Ukraine and the European Union because he wanted to forge closer ties between his country and Russia. The protests criticising the Government spread from Kyiv across the whole country over recent weeks. The demonstrators have occupied numerous government buildings, primarily in western Ukraine. Gravitating around Opposition leader Vitali Klitschko and former Economics Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk, the Government’s opponents are calling for the EU-Ukrainian association agreement to be signed and, now, for President Yanukovych to resign and new elections to be held.

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