The Ukrainian Anna Ivanovna walks several kilometres from the separatist territory to the Ukrainian side and back again – in cold weather, in frost, every day. Anna Ivanovna is one of around 200,000 people who cross the contact line via the Stanytsia Luhanska bridge every month, every week, every day, to go to the bank, buy medicines or visit relatives. Dozens of people, especially the elderly, have even died on this onerous path, which for many years consisted only of an unsafe wooden ramp. This wooden ramp has since disappeared and has been replaced by a new bridge. Shuttle buses have even been in operation since November. This all sounds like a small step, but it is also a symbol. And for thousands of people who are able to use this bridge on a daily basis, it’s still more than that; for them, this is a profound, a major step.
Fellow members of this House, when we talk here about the conflict in eastern Ukraine, then we’re not just talking about a war in our immediate neighbourhood – that would be bad enough on its own – but we’re talking about 13,000 people who have been killed, 30,000 wounded and over one million refugees. We’re talking about over two million people who are exposed to the dangers of mines and ordnance. We’re talking about the millions of people in the Donbass who face the sixth winter of this war. Our focus is, first and foremost, on these people when we talk about eastern Ukraine, when we mediate together with France in the Normandy format in the efforts to resolve the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, as we have been doing for years. It was also a signal of hope for these people that a summit was held in the Normandy format in Paris on Monday for the first time since 2016. What is more, we worked for a long time to get to this point.
However, I also want to say that it was, at the end of the day, President Zelensky who injected fresh momentum into the implementation of the Minsk agreements with his commitment to peace. This became particularly clear to us once again when we were in Ukraine in November to prepare for this summit. President Zelensky withdrew Ukrainian soldiers from three disengagement zones in eastern Ukraine. He was on the ground himself in order to implement this.
Prisoners were exchanged and an agreement was reached on what is known as the Steinmeier formula. We must therefore, I believe, acknowledge that Ukraine has undertaken courageous steps in recent weeks and months, also in the face of political resistance on the domestic stage, thus laying the groundwork for us to talk once again about the political process in resolving the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Peace in the Donbass requires more than just the will of the Ukrainian Government, however. This is why we met in this format on Monday to discuss further operative steps and, most importantly, to agree on tangible deadlines for their implementation. There have truly been enough arrangements arising from the Minsk agreements. The problem was that they have no longer been implemented in recent years.
The most important thing is to ensure that no more people are killed, that there is no further shooting. Three Ukrainian soldiers died on the very day that negotiations were taking place in Paris. This is why a comprehensive ceasefire has been agreed to; the aim is for it to be in place by the end of the year and for it to hold – unlike those in the past.
Further demining activities and three additional disengagement zones are intended to ease the security situation; this was another very tangible agreement reached in Paris. The OSCE Special Monitoring Mission in eastern Ukraine, with its almost 800 observers – including, incidentally, 40 Germans – has often been obstructed; we have reached agreements also here to ensure that this does not happen in the future.
A comprehensive exchange of prisoners has always been an important humanitarian concern; we have also reached agreement on this, and it should take place already before the end of the year. As many prisoners as possible should be able to spend the New Year at home with their families.
Further crossing points along the contact line are intended to improve people’s lives in the region – such as the bridge that I mentioned just now; this was also agreed in Paris.
The summit agreements also comprise points pertaining to the further political process. For example, legal questions relating to the special status law for the territories not currently under government control are to be clarified. Moreover, Ukraine has undertaken to translate the Steinmeier formula into Ukrainian law. All of these are important steps. This is also a political success that Germany and France have helped to bring about. Above all, it is a tangible success for the people in the region. We want to continue to fight to ensure that the things agreed to on paper are also implemented, that they finally reach the people who have suffered from this war for too long already.
Ladies and gentlemen,
We will continue to support this; tangible steps have also been agreed to this end, such as further meetings at the level of advisers in the Normandy format. We may also meet again at Foreign Minister level at the beginning of next year – the next summit will take place in four months’ time already, as we have agreed – in order to be able to resolve all the outstanding issues.
However, all those involved are aware of what is at stake, and this goes above and beyond both eastern Ukraine and Ukraine. Peace in Ukraine plays an important role also in Europe’s relations with Russia. These relations will only improve when the Minsk agreements are finally implemented and Ukraine’s sovereignty is restored.
Ladies and gentlemen, Russia has done its part in these negotiations; however, I want to take this opportunity to say one more thing. Russia’s decision today to expel two German diplomats is anything but surprising for us. Nevertheless, this decision sends the wrong signal, and it is totally unjustified in view of the circumstances. We therefore continue to expect Russia to become involved in a credible way and without delay in investigations into the murder case in the Tiergarten. We will monitor the proceedings of the Federal Public Prosecutor General and will reserve the right to take further steps.
Ladies and gentlemen,
This incident also shows that a long and arduous path still lies before us. Many questions still remain unanswered. How can democratic local elections take place in the conflict region? How can Ukraine regain full control of its own borders? We can say one thing about this, however, which is that we got a decisive step closer to all of this in Paris on Monday. President Zelensky’s election injected a great deal of momentum into the process, and it was right to seize this dynamism for a new start to the Normandy format. The Stanytsia Luhanska bridge is perhaps a symbol of where this new start can lead. It has now become easily passable, not only for pedestrians, but also for ambulances in an emergency. The bridge was built by both sides so that it is too narrow for tanks to drive over it in the future.
When asked what the people in eastern Ukraine still need now, Anna Ivanovna said: peace. - Yes, ladies and gentlemen, peace in Ukraine is possible. The Stanytsia Luhanska bridge should encourage us all to work on this, just as was the case in Paris at the beginning of the week. We will continue to work to ensure that this conflict in our neighbourhood is ended and that the sixth winter of the war is their last for the people in eastern Ukraine.