We are currently living through a time that is crucial for peace and security on our continent, a time in which we must stand up for our values, a time in which pithy phrases sound good but might trigger extremely serious consequences.
This is anything but a simple time in politics: because it’s hard not to see it as a threat when over 100,000 troops with tanks and guns gather near Ukraine for no apparent reason and more troops are being brought together in Belarus. And the Russian Government has confronted us with demands for so‑called security guarantees that run completely counter to the European security order.
The Federal Government is united and resolute in its response – doing something which, quite frankly, isn’t something that just happens to have occurred to us, but is the result of close coordination with our EU and NATO partners and within the G7. We have made it quite clear, and in no uncertain terms, that renewed military action against Ukraine would have huge consequences for Russia. On this basis, we are working on a strong package of sanctions. If there is renewed aggression, we have a range of possible responses at our disposal, including Nord Stream 2. Yes, we want dialogue at any time, but, given the current situation, there is also a need for toughness that makes it unmistakably clear that the sovereign equality of states and the cornerstones of Europe’s peaceful order are non‑negotiable.
We are united in this position, at both the transatlantic and the European level. Over the past few weeks, not a single day has gone past on which I have not spoken to my counterparts from the EU and NATO, either in numerous phone calls or in person.
In each case, like the Federal Chancellor, I had two messages: our unity is our strongest weapon, if that’s a word we want to use, and – yes, one can say this quite frankly – our roles are not completely identical. Different countries have different roles. Countries like Poland and Lithuania play a different role from Italy, France, and indeed Germany, and for good reason. Because our strength in this alliance is the very fact that besides having a clear, united position, we at the same time use our individual strengths in different roles.
To give you quite a different example from the world of sport: a team doesn’t need eleven centre forwards all doing the same thing. What it needs are eleven players who get on well and, above all, have the same game plan.
And in this context, Germany’s special role, as one of the strongest economies and industrial countries in the world, a country that plays a leading role in Europe, is this: for years Germany has been the largest donor to Ukraine – via the IMF, via the EU and bilaterally. We are currently working to pay 150 million euro from an untied loan to Ukraine as quickly as possible. Naturally we are cooperating with our partners on vaccine supplies, in the energy sector and on the process of reform in the country. And, together with France, we have ensured – though it has not always been easy in recent years – that we Europeans remain standing shoulder to shoulder, particularly now on the matter of sanctions.
Germany – and there is absolutely no need to gloss over this – also provides military support to Ukraine. To be precise – I wish to say this clearly here today – we are now supplying helmets at Ukraine’s request. This wasn’t something Ms Lambrecht simply came up with herself; rather, it was a particular wish we are now fulfilling. The same is true of protective bunkers near Odessa. A few days ago there was a phone call asking us to help with repairing them, and tomorrow – because we act directly – an initial trip to inspect them will take place. Ukrainian officers have taken part in military education and training assistance run by the Federal Ministry of Defence. Since 2014, Germany has provided more than eight million euro in support for Ukraine under the NATO Trust Fund. Within the EU, too, preparations are ongoing and plans are being made with other European partners to provide training assistance for Ukraine.
In the NATO Alliance – it is important here to distinguish between our support for Ukraine and the NATO Alliance – Germany has been one of the Lead Nations in the enhanced Forward Presence in the Baltic States since 2014. Equally, we remain committed to our responsibility in the Alliance, remaining active this year and participating in NATO Air Policing South in Romania and in the Baltic States.
Ladies and gentlemen,
Another matter we are discussing very frankly here today – that is, after all, the purpose of a parliamentary debate – is the fact that some people are calling for us to depart from this course and start supplying weapons as a matter of urgency. Of course – I say this openly and honestly – in difficult situations one has to keep on taking a critical look at one’s actions. Being not only our country’s chief diplomat but also a politician, however, I will say this quite clearly, too: a press release is quickly written, but completely flipping your foreign policy course, especially – and this is directed at the CDU/CSU parliamentary group – when a very different decision was taken just last summer, is something that should only be done in full awareness.
Above all, doing so should not close the doors towards de‑escalation that are being so cautiously reopened right now. It was a deliberate decision on my part last week to go and discuss this on the ground, both in Ukraine and in Russia. Yesterday President Zelensky made it clear once again how important Minsk is to him, that he wants an early summit as a matter of urgency and that there needs to be progress in the negotiation process. That is now the absolute top priority for me, and for this Federal Government.
That’s why yesterday, for the first time in a long while – and this, too, is something that cannot be taken for granted – there was an in‑person meeting in the Normandy format. We spent more than eight hours in negotiation. Whether something will come of it, we don’t know. No one can say that with 100% certainty at the moment. However, if someone’s talking, they’re not shooting.
That’s why it’s fatal to belittle the resumption of dialogue. Why? Because the people in the Donbass have been suffering, and even more so for the last two years since the start of the pandemic. The Minsk agreements aim precisely to enable the people in the region to return to something more of a normal life. When I was there, a member of the Embassy staff said to me: “I used to travel there regularly to see my sick grandma, but now that I’ve got a little baby, I don’t do that anymore. What would happen if I don’t come back?” These are the kind of human stories we’re talking about. That is the everyday situation for many thousands of people, and that is why the Minsk agreements are so crucial.
I’m almost finished, Madam President. We, my French counterpart Le Drian and I, will therefore travel again to Ukraine and to the contact line the week after next to support the OSCE’s intensive efforts there. Let me say this very clearly: what we are doing within the scope of economic cooperation is essential in this situation. Right now we need to strengthen Ukraine, economically and financially in particular; because in the 21st century cannons are not the only way to make threats. The pandemic has shown us what happens when supply chains are interrupted. That is why we, that is why I have very deliberately decided not to cut our Embassy staff, but to support Ukraine by being present, by investing, by giving diplomacy absolute priority, and by remaining committed together to security in Ukraine and in the whole of Europe.
Thank you very much.