On Monday, 17 February, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier met with two leaders of the Ukrainian opposition, Vitali Klitschko and Arseny Yatsenyuk, at the Federal Foreign Office. Their discussions focused on efforts to find a solution to the crisis in Ukraine. The two Ukrainian politicians had just previously been received by Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel.
In recent days, the situation in Ukraine has eased slightly, following talks between the government and the opposition. After the government released a large number of opposition members, the Ukrainian protest movement vacated several government buildings in the capital. After all members of the opposition had left Kyiv city hall, the Ukrainian prosecutor general's office confirmed on Sunday evening (16 February) that the amnesty for opposition members arrested during the protests – which had previously been approved by the parliament – was to go into effect.
Just prior to the meeting with the two opposition leaders, Federal Foreign Office spokesperson Martin Schäfer described these most recent developments in Ukraine as “encouraging”.
The spokesperson went on to praise the efforts of the OSCE (Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe) to find a solution to the conflict: “We also welcome the intermediary role played by the OSCE – represented by Switzerland and the Swiss ambassador in Kyiv. We believe this could serve as a model for addressing the big issues that now need to be tackled.” These are constitutional reform and, in Schäfer's words, “reasonable power-sharing” between the government and the opposition.
Staying in close contact with the government and the opposition in Ukraine
Monday was not the first time that Steinmeier, Klitschko and Yatsenyuk had met to discuss the precarious political situation in Ukraine. The Foreign Minister had already spoken with both Ukrainian opposition leaders on the fringes of the Munich Security Conference in early February. Foreign Minister Steinmeier also used this opportunity to meet with Ukrainian Foreign Minister Leonid Kozhara.
Afterwards, in an interview with “Bild am Sonntag”, Foreign Minister Steinmeier summarized his meeting with Klitschko and Yatsenyuk as follows:
Vitali Klitschko and Arseny Yatsenyuk deserve our respect for their courage to fight for a peaceful solution in Kyiv.
The situation in Ukraine also figured prominently at the recent talks in Moscow between Foreign Minister Steinmeier and Russian President Vladimir Putin, as well as his counterpart Sergey Lavrov. In Moscow, Steinmeier emphasised that the focus in Ukraine must not be gaining and securing geopolitical influence. Ukrainians must be given a free choice to decide for themselves which future path they will take.
Human Rights Commissioner meets with Ukrainian activist
Only a few hours prior to Foreign Minister Steinmeier's meeting with Klitschko and Yatsenyuk, Christoph Strässer, the Federal Government Commissioner for Human Rights Matters, had welcomed Ukrainian activist Dmitri Bulatov to the Federal Foreign Office.
Bulatov is a leader of “Automaidan”, the Ukrainian protest movement that conducts anti-government protests in Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities in the form of car convoys. He has reported he was abducted and severely abused during the protests in Ukraine.
During his meeting with his Ukrainian counterpart Kozhara on the sidelines of the Munich Security Conference at the end of January, Foreign Minister Steinmeier had urged that the severely-injured activist be permitted to travel to Europe for medical treatment. Strässer wished the activist a speedy recovery, saying: “It is important that we find out exactly what happened to him”.