Mr. Prime Minister,
Dear colleagues, dear visitors, dear friends!
For one and a half years now, the people of Ukraine have been suffering under a grim and violent conflict. Still, people on both sides are dying almost every day. Close to two million people have lost their homes.
Let’s be clear from the start what triggered this conflict: Russia’s annexation of Crimea against the principles of international law, and the continuing combat in Eastern Ukraine – in short: the path of confrontation that Russia chose to take! Therein lies the root of this conflict and not –as some are saying– in an intensifying partnership between the European Union and Ukraine. The European Union stands by this partnership! We are by your side, ready to assist your country on its way to regaining economic and political stability and keeping Ukrainian unity. That was the clear message coming from the Riga Summit just a few days ago – and the roadmap for our cooperation is laid out in our Association Agreement. So again, let’s be clear: Not the path of cooperation has led us into this conflict – but the path of confrontation!
But as much as I believe that, I also believe that further confrontation will not lead us out of this conflict, but only drive us deeper inside! There is no military solution to this conflict. There can only be a solution based on the values of our European peace order. And even though we are not nearly there yet, we at least have a roadmap. That roadmap is called Minsk! Nobody knows better than I that this roadmap is far from perfect. I know all its imperfections. I know the process is still fragile. But let me also tell you after the long negotiations of Minsk: For the time being, it’s the only chance we’ve got! It’s the only document which is signed by all conflict parties.
Ladies and gentlemen: The path of Minsk is the political path. A path of engagement, avoiding further escalation. A path that requires both conflict parties come to the table and stay at the table. That’s why we have the Trilateral Contact Group. We need all three sides to support it and maintain its guiding role. I hope this message is understood in Moscow. We are lucky that the OSCE is there to give guidance to that group, and I urge all sides to respect it!
So only briefly: Where do we stand?
Although the OSCE has tried to calm the situation around Shyrokyne and Donetsk Airport with proposals of local ceasefires, we still see daily violations of the ceasefire. Beyond that, in the process we have reached a new stage: The four working groups are up and meeting, all together, on June 2nd. The four pillars are:
And Political Reform.
In all four areas, the mountain of challenges is enormous. So we need both: quick progress, the “low hanging fruits” so to speak – like building a bridge in Luhansk Oblast or reconnecting gas and water pipes. But we also need progress on the huge tasks:
strengthening the ceasefire, supervising and verifying the withdrawal of weaponry;
staying on the path that shall lead to the reinstatement of full control of the state border by the Ukrainian government, as agreed in Minsk;
rebuilding destroyed infrastructure;
tackling bureaucracy and corruption so small businesses can flourish, foreign companies can invest and people’s lives can improve;
and re-engaging in a visible national dialogue including representatives of civil society in the East.
In all our endeavors, let’s not forget: Whatever we do, we do it for the people of Ukraine. We trust in the Ukrainian leadership to set the right framework, including the necessary reform decisions and their implementation. And we remain just as clear in our message to Russia: The duration of international sanctions is linked to the implementation of Minsk!
We Europeans are there as your partners, in all formats of the EU and in the Normandy Group. Together with many others –the U.S., Canada, Japan, etc.-, Germany is your partner. This year, we are supporting Ukraine, all in all, with roughly 700 million Euros in bilateral activities alone. Plus, we support Ukraine through the IMF and the EU.
In short: We are partners, and friends. Friends who are actively engaged and honest! Having followed all phases of the conflict since the political change in February 2014, being confronted with all the suffering of Ukrainian people, I know -and we know- the work that we have to do. So as I now go on to my political meetings in Kiev, I wish you a successful conference. Let’s get to work! Thank you.