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"Our aim is not to isolate Russia permanently"

21.09.2014 - Interview

In an interview with the newspaper Lübecker Nachrichten on 21 September, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier spoke about the G7 foreign ministers meeting next year, the Ebola epidemic and the current crises in Ukraine and Iraq/Syria.

In an interview with the newspaper Lübecker Nachrichten on 21 September, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier spoke about the G7 foreign ministers meeting next year, the Ebola epidemic and the current crises in Ukraine and Iraq/Syria.

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Minister, Lübeck will be the venue for the G7 foreign ministers meeting in April 2015. You hold the presidency. Why are you inviting the ministers to Lübeck?

Many of my counterparts are familiar with the capital Berlin. I would also like to show them other regions in Germany. What could be a more suitable venue than Lübeck, the cultural capital of the north and home to three Nobel laureates, including a Nobel Peace Prize laureate? I think Lübeck is a beautiful city, a real jewel. And it is world famous as the home of the Buddenbrooks. I am certain that the lovely Old Town with its red-brick Gothic architecture will create a very special atmosphere for our meeting, the sort of atmosphere one needs for productive talks.

What do you personally associate with the city?

For a German foreign minister, particularly a Social Democrat, Willy Brandt obviously comes to mind. I remember my last visit to Lübeck very well. I attended a ceremony to mark what would have been Willy Brandt’s 100th birthday. Many guests came from abroad, and Lübeck was an excellent host.

As a Hanseatic city, Lübeck has traditionally had close links to the Baltic Sea region. Did this also play a role?

Almost 70 years after the end of the Second World War, no one would have expected questions of war and peace to resurface in Europe.

Unfortunately, this has happened. It thus sends a signal when we meet in a Hanseatic city to discuss strengthening international relations. The Hanseatic League is an example of how people found a framework to cooperate across state, linguistic and cultural borders, despite many different interests. This framework brought prosperity and peaceful coexistence to large parts of Europe.

Russia will not attend the meeting in April. How hopeful are you that the G7 will become the G8 again?

The suspension of Russia’s membership was not an end in itself, but rather a reaction to its actions against Ukraine, particularly the annexation of Crimea in violation of international law. Our aim is not to isolate Russia permanently. Now that President Putin and President Poroshenko have agreed on a 12-point plan, Russia has a chance to prove that it will stick to what has been agreed and respect Ukraine’s unity. If it does so, we can then decide on lifting the sanctions, as we said we would – and also on whether to return to the G8.

The ceasefire in Ukraine is more or less being upheld. Is this a result of the sanctions?

Perhaps it is more that both sides had reached a point where they were forced to recognise that the conflict cannot be resolved by military means, and that this would only have led to thousands more deaths. But there can be no doubt that the sanctions have had a significant impact on the Russian economy. The capital drain has rapidly gathered pace, while foreign investors have become far more circumspect. The central bank had to intervene in order to back up the rouble. Had Russia continued its previous policies towards Ukraine, there would have been severe economic repercussions.

Have you become more optimistic as regards the Ukraine crisis?

I am not more optimistic as regards the likelihood of our returning to a state of normality in European-Russian relations in the near future. Too much trust has been destroyed for that to happen. But we were in an extremely dangerous situation where an open military confrontation between Russian and Ukrainian armed forces was becoming ever more likely.

That shows how much a ceasefire can achieve, even if it is rather fragile. A political settlement has not yet been reached, but the ceasefire is certainly a step in the right direction. Political solutions do not come from rifle fire. We need this ceasefire phase in order to make such solutions possible once again.

Is Germany doing enough to contain the Ebola epidemic in Africa?

We all need to do more to overcome the Ebola crisis. We were quick to react, and provided the first aid at the start of July.

In the meantime, Germany has provided 17 million euros for the fight against Ebola. We are supporting the United Nations and international aid organisations and we are supplying humanitarian assistance and a field hospital. This is substantial support that benefits people affected by the Ebola epidemic.

Médicins Sans Frontières is calling for fully equipped clinics and qualified personnel.

Our humanitarian assistance is currently spread across a large number of trouble spots, particularly Iraq and Syria, but also Ukraine. Nevertheless, we are doing what we can to provide additional Ebola treatment capacities in order to help the people and governments in the affected regions. A meeting took place at my initiative at the Federal Foreign Office on Friday evening between the ministries involved in combating the Ebola epidemic. We agreed on additional support measures. For example, there is a need for a local hub to distribute the relief supplies arriving from all over the world. We will tackle this task in cooperation with France. The Bundeswehr will establish an airlift, and we are supporting the German Red Cross in setting up a mobile clinic. We will not leave countries such as Sierra Leone, Guinea and Liberia alone in their desperate battle against the epidemic.

In a recent speech to the German Bundestag, you said that the world had come loose from its moorings. Will we have to go back to spending more on security and defence?

When foreign and security policy tops the agenda, this is also because the world is not a particularly peaceful place. For the sake of our own security, we need to pay more attention to the conditions in the world around us once again. The days of constant cuts to defence budgets seem to be over. But first and foremost, this means that we will need to talk about the extent and limitations of our foreign policy responsibility.

The interview was conducted by Arnold Petersen. Reproduced by kind permission of the Lübecker Nachrichten.

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