The OSCE inspectors held against their will in Slavyansk in eastern Ukraine were released on Saturday (3 May). Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen expressed their relief and thanked everyone involved in negotiating their release. In the evening the inspectors landed at Berlin-Tegel airport.
Clearly relieved after receiving confirmation that the OSCE inspectors detained in Slavyansk were now free, Foreign Minister Steinmeier and Defence Minister von der Leyen gave a joint press conference on Saturday (3 May). During the morning the OSCE had confirmed the release of the entire team of twelve inspectors. The negotiations had been difficult right up to the last, Foreign Minister Steinmeier explained in Berlin. Several times it had looked as if they might end in failure.
Difficult negotiations right up to the last
Under these circumstances Steinmeier and von der Leyen were particularly pleased that the efforts to secure the release of the entire team, including also the Ukrainian officers, had been successful. The inspectors were now being looked after by a German support team led by the Federal Foreign Office’s Crisis Management Commissioner, they noted. At Steinmeier’s behest, the Federal Foreign Office had established a crisis unit as soon as news came in that the observers – four of them German nationals – were being held against their will. The unit’s latest meeting on Friday had been chaired by the Minister.
The inspectors were flown back by the Bundeswehr. On Saturday evening the German members of the team and their colleagues from other countries landed in Berlin and were met by their families.
Tireless efforts by all concerned
Foreign Minister Steinmeier emphasised:
Today’s happy end to the hostage-taking, however, is the result of persistent, dedicated diplomacy by a great many people.
Steinmeier and von der Leyen explicitly thanked everyone involved for their tireless efforts over the past week. They paid tribute both to the OSCE negotiating team and to the Federal Foreign Office crisis unit. The two ministers also noted how much they appreciated the role Russian representative Vladimir Lukin had played in this connection. A key factor in this positive outcome had also been the cooperation with Ukraine’s leaders and authorities, Steinmeier added.
OSCE: Great expertise and courage
Over the past few days the German Government had worked closely with the OSCE negotiating team. Steinmeier had repeatedly pointed out that the ongoing negotiations under OSCE auspices had the German Government’s full backing. On Friday (2 May) Steinmeier had conferred in this connection with Didier Burkhalter, current OCSE Chairperson-in-Office and President of the Swiss Confederation.
Over the past week the German Government had been in close contact with the Russian and Ukrainian Governments as well as the OSCE and made use of all possible channels in the interest of securing the detainees’ prompt release. Earlier in the week Steinmeier had pledged that “we are doing everything in our power to secure the release of the detainees and ensure that they can return to their tasks in good health and as soon as possible.”
Tragedy in Odessa must be a wake-up call
On Saturday (3 May) Steinmeier and von der Leyen also made clear that the crisis in Ukraine was still far from over. The situation was in fact continuing to escalate. In the light of the latest acts of violence in Odessa and other cities in eastern and southern Ukraine, Steinmeier declared:
I hope that for all concerned yesterday’s tragedy in Odessa that left over 40 people dead will be a wake-up call and remind everyone that violence only breeds violence. If this spiral of violence is not stopped now, there may come a moment when unchecked violence will have free rein. So I appeal to all political leaders to stop fanning the flames further, end bellicose rhetoric, and resume the quest for a political solution to the Ukraine conflict.
Von der Leyen also pointed out that in view of the elections planned in Ukraine for 25 May it was in everyone’s interest to strengthen the OSCE and support it in fulfilling its mission. She explained that particularly “in regions we are concerned about” it was the OSCE’s job to “ensure transparency and mutual confidence”. As a mediating and impartial institution, the OSCE therefore had a crucial role to play in Ukraine.