Foreign Minister Steinmeier has two days of crisis diplomacy in Brussels and Switzerland behind him. Following the EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels, he spoke with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and UN Secretary‑General Ban Ki‑moon in Geneva about the crisis in Ukraine. He then flew to Berne to meet Didier Burkhalter, Chair of the OSCE.
An international format for talks on Ukraine could be one step towards overcoming the crisis – for example in the form of a contact group involving Russia and Ukraine.
“We haven’t got there yet, but I think it is worthwhile to pursue the talks,” said Foreign Minister Steinmeier, speaking at Tegel airport on Tuesday (4 March) after returning to Berlin. His diplomatic endeavours had taken him to Brussels, Geneva and Berne.
“All these discussions are concerned with finding a way, with international assistance, to defuse the tensions within Ukraine and escape from the spiral of escalation. This is urgently needed, because nerves in Ukraine are almost at breaking point.”
First stop: EU Foreign Ministers meeting in Brussels
Speaking at the start of the EU foreign ministers meeting in Brussels on Monday (3 March), Foreign Minister Steinmeier stated, “Without a doubt Europe is facing its severest crisis since the fall of the Wall. Twenty‑five years after the end of the Cold War, the danger of a new rift in Europe is very real,” he continued,
adding that the situation in Ukraine was becoming more tense by the day. The EU foreign ministers therefore discussed diplomatic options for achieving de‑escalation of the Crimea crisis, their meeting chaired by the High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, Cathy Ashton. A meeting of the EU heads of state and government is planned for Thursday (6 March).
Assessment of the situation is necessary
Germany is doing everything in its power to find a diplomatic solution for calming the situation in Ukraine. The focus is on the Crimean peninsula, where the situation is currently hard to monitor and pro-Russian armed forces have been deployed.
In Brussels, Foreign Minister Steinmeier therefore proposed making an objective assessment of the situation. He suggested that the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) could undertake this fact-finding mission.
“A clear message is needed,” emphasised the German Foreign Minister, who also had talks with his French colleague Laurent Fabius on the fringes of the EU’s ministers meeting. “Statements and debates will not lift us out of the current crisis. In the days to come we must ensure that we remain capable of taking political action.”
Dialogue with Russia necessary
Steinmeier said it was now important for Europe – alongside the strong messages it was sending to Russia – to encourage the two governments in Russia and Ukraine to talk directly to one another. “That could help reduce tensions.” He explained that the key was to find formats which would bring both parties together. “In the past we have had good experiences with international contact groups, which can involve many players, including the Europeans.” Foreign Minister Steinmeier continued:
“There are no guarantees. There is no guarantee that tools like this will provide us with a way out of the crisis and really help to defuse the situation. But I believe it would be irresponsible not to try.”
Second stop: Talks with Lavrov and Ban in Geneva
In the evening of 3 March Foreign Minister Steinmeier travelled from Brussels to Geneva, where he met his Russian counterpart at short notice for a working dinner. The two ministers discussed the situation in Ukraine and the possible basis for an international format for talks.
On Tuesday morning (4 March) a meeting took place between Steinmeier and United Nations Secretary‑General Ban Ki‑moon. Over a working breakfast in Geneva the two men also discussed ways to resolve the conflict in Ukraine. Following their exchange, Steinmeier underlined that it was important “to exhaust all, absolutely all, options to prevent Ukraine from sliding back into violence”.
Third stop: The role of the OSCE in Berne
On Tuesday (4 March) Foreign Minister Steinmeier also met Swiss President Didier Burkhalter, who is currently Chair of the Organization for Security and Co‑operation in Europe (OSCE). The talks in Berne focused on a possible OSCE observer mission in Ukraine.
Speaking in Berne, Foreign Minister Steinmeier said that the risk of new bloodshed arising from the political conflict was, “simply, a reality”.
“That is why we need an international format which brings Ukrainians and Russians together. I believe it would be good for the OSCE to play a prominent role in this constellation.”
Steinmeier emphasised that it was vital for the crisis diplomacy in Ukraine to make the most of the next one and a half days before the session of the European Council on Thursday (6 March) in Brussels.