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Crisis in Crimea: Avoiding a new rift in Europe

10.03.2014 - Article

The crisis in Crimea is threatening to divide Europe. Foreign Minister Steinmeier is working to continue the diplomatic efforts to reach a solution in Ukraine.

The situation in Crimea remains tense. At the same time, diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis in Crimea continue. On Monday evening Foreign Minister Steinmeier will set off at short notice on a trip to the Baltic. In view of the recent escalation of the conflict, the Foreign Minister warned on Sunday (9 March) of a “new rift in Europe”.

In the last few days international efforts to defuse the situation in Crimea have been continuing with a vengeance. The focus of the talks is on finding the means to embark on a diplomatic political process in which Ukraine and Russia can discuss first hand how to find a way out of the crisis. Another important goal of the deliberations is to preserve Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.

Intensive travelling diplomacy

Meeting with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in Geneva (4 March 2014)
Meeting with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon in Geneva (4 March 2014)© Photothek.net

In the past week Foreign Minister Steinmeier has completed an intensive travel itinerary in order to work with European and international partners to find a way out of the recent escalation of the conflict. This included a meeting with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov as well as with the Foreign Minister of the Ukrainian interim government, Andriy Deshchytsia. The crisis in Crimea was also the focus of the Foreign Minister’s talks last week with UN Secretary-General Ban Ki‑moon and OSCE Chair Didier Burkhalter. Consultations with his European colleagues and with US Secretary of State John Kerry also centred around the international efforts to defuse the conflict. Click here for more information on the Foreign Minister’s talks:

Clear messages to Russia

Steinmeier and Zaorálek at the joint press conference
Steinmeier and Zaorálek at the joint press conference© AA

The announcement last week that a referendum on Crimea joining Russia has been scheduled for 16 March has exacerbated the situation still further. Last Thursday (6 March) the European Union heads of state and government condemned the referendum as “illegal”. Speaking last Friday (7 March) in the presence of his Czech counterpart Lubomír Zaorálek, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier declared that this decision by Russia had “added fuel to the fire”.

On Sunday (9 March), following another phone conversation with Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov, the Foreign Minister described Russia’s position as “relatively inflexible”. The Foreign Minister called for clear and decisive messages to be sent ensuring that Russia understood that “we will respond and we will be obliged to respond if the path of escalation continues to be followed.” He went on to say that if the Russian side did not shift its stance in the coming days, “the next stage of sanctions” would be reached. At the same time Steinmeier warned against “manoeuvring ourselves into a corner”. If it came to this, “a road of escalating sanctions” must be designed in such a way that exits still remained open at all times.

EU agrees on initial steps

Foreign Minister Steinmeier in Brussels (3 March 2014)
Foreign Minister Steinmeier in Brussels (3 March 2014)© Photothek.net

In the past week, during a special summit of the European Union in Brussels, the European heads of state and government agreed on initial steps such as discontinuing visa talks with Russia. Extensive economic assistance was also earmarked for Ukraine. Furthermore, during their meeting the European heads of state and government agreed on a three-stage plan to be implemented should no progress be made in resolving the crisis in Crimea. On Sunday (9 March) Foreign Minister Steinmeier issued the following statement in this connection:

If we have to threaten to use sanctions, we will impose them in stages. The first stage is already in place. We have discontinued talks. The next stage will involve the option of freezing assets and preventing certain power-holders in Russia from travelling by withdrawing their visas.

Foreign Minister Steinmeier will remain in close consultation with his European partners on this issue over the coming days. On Tuesday he will hold talks with the foreign ministers and leaders of the three Baltic states – Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

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