In view of the dramatic developments in eastern and southern Ukraine, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier flew to Vienna at short notice on Tuesday (6 May) for talks with the Ukrainian and Russian Foreign Ministers, Andriy Deshchytsia and Sergey Lavrov, as well as Didier Burkhalter, Chairperson‑in‑Office of the Organization for Security and Co‑operation in Europe (OSCE).
Previously, Foreign Minister Steinmeier used a guest article for a German daily to advocate giving the OSCE a greater role in the Ukraine crisis and warn against a “war in eastern Europe”.
Seeking de‑escalation: talks with all sides
In the conference centre at Vienna airport, Steinmeier first met Russia’s Foreign Minister Lavrov. Afterwards, he consulted with his Ukrainian opposite number, Foreign Minister Deshchytsia, as well as President Burkhalter of Switzerland, the current OSCE Chairperson‑in‑Office, on possibilities for greater international involvement to help de‑escalate the situation in Ukraine. Before talking to Steinmeier, the men had taken part in the annual Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe in Vienna. Germany was represented at the meeting by Michael Roth, Minister of State for Europe.
Calling for a second Geneva meeting
After his talks in Vienna, Germany’s Foreign Minister commented on the exacerbated situation in eastern and southern Ukraine as follows: “Things cannot and must not go on as they have been in these last few days.” Another Geneva conference, he said, now needed to put an end to the bloodshed and lay the groundwork for defusing the conflict.
Foreign Minister Steinmeier had previously called for Ukraine, Russia, the United States and the European Union to meet again in Vienna, in his article for a German newspaper. What was needed, he wrote, was for the four parties to send a “strong political signal” and show that they stand by what they agreed and will keep up their efforts to put the outcomes of the first Geneva meeting into practice.
Strengthening the OSCE in the Ukraine crisis
In his article, Steinmeier also advocated determinedly continuing all endeavours to de‑escalate the situation. Giving up was not an option, he wrote. Admitting that the international community no longer had a broad range of instruments at its disposal in Ukraine, he pointed to the OSCE as a seasoned, respected organisation on the ground which had been expanding its presence in Ukraine for several weeks and had representatives at many of the relevant hot spots.
The Foreign Minister went on to outline further steps to be taken to calm the conflict. It was important, he wrote, to reach agreement on the conduct of the presidential elections, to give a new Ukrainian government democratic legitimacy, without which stability would not be possible. The conflict parties in Ukraine also, the article goes on, need to consult swiftly on constitutional reform with the goal of actively involving all regions and social groups, and producing a viable consensus. It points out that the OSCE can help set up forums for dialogue at every level and that efforts to disarm non‑state groups and clear public buildings and squares throughout the country must be continued.
Moscow and Kyiv have a lot to lose
In Steinmeier’s words, we can only hope to succeed if all those involved are willing to go down such a road. “Perhaps,” the Foreign Minister hopes, “the realisation that Russia and Ukraine doubtless have the most to lose should it not prove possible to turn the situation around now will help.” The talks in Vienna allowed Foreign Minister Steinmeier to gauge that willingness.