Violence between security forces and anti‑government protesters in Ukraine is worsening. At least 77 people have died in violent clashes since Tuesday. In view of the situation, Foreign Minister Steinmeier flew to the Ukrainian capital Kyiv on Thursday together with his Polish and French counterparts, Radoslaw Sikorski and Laurent Fabius. The visit was coordinated with EU High Representative Catherine Ashton.
In the capital Kyiv, Ukrainian security forces began to clear protesters from Independence Square, also known as the Maidan, on Tuesday evening shortly after an ultimatum issued by the authorities had expired. There followed the worst clashes between police and demonstrators since the anti‑government protests began three months ago. By Wednesday, at least 25 people had been killed in this spate of violence. Hundreds were injured, many severely. Today there have again been serious clashes on the Maidan, with yet more fatalities and injuries.
Joint visit to Kyiv
Steinmeier flew to Kyiv with his Polish and French counterparts, Radoslaw Sikorski and Laurent Fabius, on Thursday morning for talks with the Ukrainian Government and Opposition. Prior to his departure, Steinmeier issued the following statement:
We want to talk to President Yanukovych and Opposition representatives in order to urge both sides to call a reprieve and to scale back the violence. And we want to help the parties back to the negotiating table and towards a political solution. Only the parties in Kyiv can resolve the conflict.
Steinmeier stressed that he was travelling to Kyiv with Sikorski and Fabius, his fellow “Weimar Triangle” Foreign Ministers, and in very close coordination with EU High Representative Ashton, thereby underscoring the joint position taken by Europe toward Ukraine. He commented as follows on the chances of success of the mediation attempt: “We cannot know whether we will manage to avert something even worse. But in my opinion, Europe has a responsibility to try.”
Meeting with opposition and government representatives
Immediately upon their arrival, the three Foreign Ministers met with Ukrainian Opposition representatives Vitali Klitschko, Arseniy Yatsenyuk and Oleg Tyahnibok.
They then met the Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych in the heavily guarded government district. In the course of the four‑hour long talks, the three Foreign Ministers proposed a road map leading to a political settlement. The meeting was overshadowed by reports of further fatalities in the fighting on the Maidan.
In the evening Foreign Minister Fabius of France departed on a long‑planned visit to China. Foreign Ministers Steinmeier and Sikorski remained in Kyiv, negotiating with government and opposition representatives through the night.
Meanwhile, the remaining EU Foreign Ministers met in Brussels and agreed to impose sanctions on political leaders in Ukraine. Speaking after a meeting on Thursday, Italian Foreign Minister Emma Bonino said that the aim was to enforce visa bans and asset freezes against the people responsible for human rights violations and violence “very quickly”.
Call for an end to the violence
In view of the dramatic situation in Kyiv and other cities across Ukraine, Foreign Minister Steinmeier had on Wednesday expressed his shock at the number of casualties and called for an immediate end to the violence. Things must not be allowed to keep spiralling, he said on the sidelines of the Franco‑German Council of Ministers in Paris, noting that there was a pressing need for a respite. Steinmeier then said, “I urgently call on everyone to refrain from violence at this time. That appeal goes to the security forces, but also to the radical elements among the demonstrators.” He stressed that President Yanukovych, the Government and the security forces had a responsibility to exercise prudence and de‑escalate tensions.