In an interview in the Passauer Neue Presse newspaper, Federal Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier discussed steps which could de‑escalate the crises in Ukraine and Iraq. Published in the Passauer Neue Presse newspaper on 1 July 2014.
Mr Steinmeier, do you currently think there is a chance of a real ceasefire holding in Ukraine?
No one is denying that the situation is complicated. Over the past few days and hours there have been intensive talks and negotiations at all levels. The release of the second team of OSCE observers is a step in the right direction and one which greatly relieves us. One thing is clear however – there must be a permanent ceasefire in order for there to be a chance of reaching a negotiated solution.
What factors will success depend on?
One should not expect any miracles in crisis diplomacy. It is much more about making processes possible to, step by step, pave the way to a solution. We need a lasting ceasefire. Securing the border between Russia and Ukraine is equally important, as is monitoring the ceasefire, which in my view is something which the OSCE can and should help to do. If progress can be made on these fronts then it will give us time and breathing space to implement the individual points of the peace plan put forward by President Poroshenko. It will doubtlessly be an arduous process but I do not see any other option.
Is the option of imposing harsh economic sanctions on Moscow still on the table?
Economic sanctions are not an end in themselves! The European Council has made its expectations clear to Russia. The aim remains de‑escalation of the situation in Ukraine, and this will continue to form the basis of our political decisions.
Has the West underestimated both Vladimir Putin and his determination?
One should not forget that this was initially an internal conflict in Ukraine. When the bloodshed on the Maidan was successfully halted, Europe quite rightly breathed a sigh of relief. After Viktor Yanukovych hastily left the country, a new set of circumstances arose which apparently triggered President Putin’s actions in Crimea. We have underestimated neither him nor his conduct which flies in the face of international law.
Should Ukraine join the European Union at some point?
Steinmeier: It is not for us in Europe to determine the political perspectives of our neighbours. We have just signed the second part of the Association Agreement with Ukraine and we want to support the new leadership in Kyiv in implementing it – the aim of which remains to enable all people in Ukraine to benefit as soon as possible from the opportunities of closer association with the EU. This will only be possible once we have managed to calm the situation in the East of the country, and this is something that we are working day and night to achieve.
Do Germany and Europe need to reduce their dependency on oil and gas from Russia?
It is understandable that the postponed negotiations on a gas deal between Ukraine and Russia have concerned many people. The negotiation efforts are continuing, above all thanks to the efforts of EU Commissioner Günther Oettinger. As it happens, compared to other European countries, Germany is not in a bad position in terms of energy imports. We are not reliant on a single supplier for our oil and gas, and indeed less than 35 percent of our imports come from Russia. Moscow stood by its delivery commitments even during the Cold War, I thus take it that Russia will honour its contracts now. Naturally we expect the same from Kyiv when it comes to the onward delivery of gas to Europe.
Moving from the crisis in Ukraine to the situation in the Middle East – on Sunday, ISIS terrorists proclaimed the establishment of a “caliphate” in parts of Iraq and Syria. Is this the Islamic theocracy from the Mediterranean to Mesopotamia which so many fear?
The situation in the region poses a great threat. The escalation of the conflict, due above all to the fierce determination of ISIS fighters, gives it a new dimension. ISIS has not managed to advance so far in Iraq due to strength in numbers. Their progress is primarily due to the fact that the Shia‑dominated government in Baghdad has disregarded the interests of the Sunni population for such a long time. ISIS is drawing capital from the Sunni’s discontent. That is why we must break the current connection between ISIS and the many who are disappointed, above all amongst Sunnis in Iraq. In order for such a development to come about, the neighbouring states need to play a more constructive role. Above all the disastrous logic of considering a person friend or foe based on their denomination must be overcome.
Human Rights Watch has reported that ISIS has committed massacres in Iraq. Can the world sit by and watch this for much longer?
The pictures are horrifying, this is clearly an issue of extremely serious human rights violations. But if you are being truthful you must also say that outside intervention will not bring peace to Iraq. The key to solving the problem lies within Iraq itself, in an agreement on a new and inclusive government which represents all religious and ethnic groups. This is the only way to put paid to the violence and to prevent Iraq from disintegrating. The Kurds will play a crucial role in this, in recent years this group has repeatedly proven to be a responsible and stabilising actor in Iraq.
Should the Germans be involved in a military intervention if the international community opts for this course of action?
Our military is already involved in the action to protect our NATO partner Turkey. But as far as we are concerned there is no military option, certainly not with the involvement of the Federal Armed Forces. Even the US is acting with the utmost caution and restraint in this regard. Military action will not be decisive in finding a solution here, it is instead a question of whether politicians in Iraq manage to reach a consensus over a truly inclusive government.
The interview was conducted by Rasmus Buchsteiner. Reproduced with the kind permission of the Passauer Neue Presse newspaper.