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"We are willing to increase the pressure on Moscow"

22.07.2014 - Interview

Foreign Minister Steinmeier spoke to the Polish newspaper Rzesczpospolita on 22 July about the developments in Ukraine and relations between the EU and Russia.

Foreign Minister Steinmeier spoke to the Polish newspaper Rzesczpospolita on 22 July about the developments in Ukraine and relations between the EU and Russia.

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Can the Malaysia Airlines plane tragedy lead to a breakthrough in resolving the Ukraine crisis, regardless of who was responsible for shooting it down?

The pointless loss of so many innocent lives is absolutely terrible, and the way in which the separatists have treated the victims’ remains is appalling. At what stage should we be joining forces and doing everything in our power to prevent further escalation, if not now? I want to make this quite clear: If the path towards a political solution can still be pursued, things cannot continue like this. Radek Sikorski and I, together with our French Foreign Minister colleague Laurent Fabius, have urgently called for an immediate bilateral ceasefire. And we need effective controls of the border with Russia.

Does it make sense in the new situation to increase the sanctions on Russia?

The situation has changed radically following the shooting down of the MH17 aircraft. We need a serious and independent investigation into the crime. The perpetrators and those pulling the strings must not be allowed to get away with it. All the foreign ministers travelling to the EU consultations in Brussels today are aware that we need to react as one. Sanctions are neither an end in themselves nor a panacea, but undoubtedly the Russian leadership has not done enough in the past weeks to stop the separatists. That is why we have agreed that we are willing to increase the pressure on Moscow to urge Russia to change its behaviour and work with us to defuse the situation.

You are not in favour of permanently stationing NATO forces in Poland and the countries bordering Russia. Is that so as not to provoke Russia?

We take the concerns of our eastern NATO partners very seriously. The people in Poland and the Baltic States are very uneasy. That is perfectly understandable in the current situation, and we share those worries. That is why we ourselves are contributing to NATO reassurance measures, which include increased AWACS flights over Eastern Europe. We also intend to cooperate with Warsaw and Copenhagen to boost the operational readiness of the multinational corps in Szczecin. We are leading a NATO mine countermeasures force in the Baltic Sea with a German ship and are participating in the intensified air-policing measures over the Baltic region. In addition, for the NATO summit in autumn we are preparing decisions on how we can increase NATO’s presence in Poland and the Baltic States. The people in Poland can be sure of this: our solidarity with the members of the Alliance is unshakeable. The people in Poland can rely on Germany.

You have compiled several plans for moving closer to Russia, the goal of which was for Russia to embrace western standards of international policymaking. Haven’t the events in Ukraine shown that such concepts to civilise Russia were misguided?

Russia’s violation of international law by its actions in Crimea has called into question fundamental rules for peaceful co existence in Europe. When Russia disputes existing borders 70 years after the end of the Second World War, this is unacceptable, and no one can then simply return to business as usual. At the same time, Russia is and remains a part of Europe and is the EU’s largest neighbour. We can’t simply wish it away and put another one in its place. I can’t yet foresee what that means for the future. What our relationship with Russia will look like in future depends to a large extent on Russia’s behaviour in the coming weeks.

During the last round of negotiations on the Ukraine crisis in Berlin between the foreign ministers of Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France, Minister Sikorski was missing. It seems that was what Moscow wanted.

That’s nonsense. The meeting in Berlin followed on from the meeting of the Heads of State and Government on the fringes of the celebrations in Normandy. We work very closely together. Radek was always kept informed about all our initiatives. After the terrible plane disaster Radek Sikorski and I, together with Laurent Fabius, immediately took the initiative. In February we mediated side by side in Kyiv to prevent a civil war and further bloodshed in Ukraine. We speak regularly on the phone and meet so often that I have stopped counting the number of times we have seen each other. Poland is one of Germany’s most important partners. That applies in the Ukraine crisis and equally in other pressing issues of our times, especially where the future of Europe is at stake.

Should Europe do everything it can to reduce its dependence on Russian fuel, as Donald Tusk’s plan envisages?

We would be well advised to reduce all forms of dependence. Many countries, particularly in the East, rely on energy imports from Russia. We are therefore fully in agreement with the Polish Government that we in the EU have to work even more actively towards ensuring a secure, affordable and sustainable supply of energy. Many steps are leading in this direction. They include completion of the internal energy market, diversification of fuel sources and energy suppliers and improved energy efficiency. Poland, France and Germany are pulling in the same direction with regard to creating a European framework for the EU’s energy and climate strategy up to 2030 by October this year.

Will maintaining the geographical balance in top EU posts lead to one of the positions being occupied by someone from Poland or another member state in our region?

Together we want to build a team which contains the best minds and reflects Europe in all its diversity. That is a challenging task which we need to tackle with great awareness of the responsibility we have. Eastern Europe must be represented in this team. We need an all round package which balances regional and party political aspects, and also ensures that women are adequately represented. And for all players – personal aptitude is vital.

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