This is a serious violation of international law

06.09.2020 - Interview

Interview by Foreign Minister Heiko Maas with “Bild am Sonntag”

Foreign Minister, will you be visiting Alexei Navalny in the Charité?

I would like to visit Mr Navalny, if his condition allows it.

How certain are you that the Russian state is behind the poisoning?

There are many indications that that is the case; that is why the Russian side must now respond. We have high expectations that the Russian Government will investigate this serious crime. Should it have nothing to do with the attack, then it is in its own interest to substantiate it, with facts.

What evidence do you have?

The deadly chemical weapon with which Navalny was poisoned has in the past been in the possession of Russian agencies. Only a very small group of people have access to Novichok. And the poison was already used by state agencies in the attack against ex‑spy Sergei Skripal. If the Russian side does not play its part in investigating the crime against Mr Navalny, that would be another indication that the state was involved in the attack. Should there be nothing but evasion and smokescreens, we will have to assume that Russia has something to hide.

Russia claims that Navalny was not poisoned on Russian soil.

That’s so absurd that I won’t make any further comment.

You want the main suspect to investigate the attack. How long will you give the Russian Government?

Ultimatums help no-one. However, if, in the next few days, the Russian side does not do anything to help clarify the incident, we will have to discuss a response with our partners. This attack was committed using a lethal chemical agent which is banned internationally. This is a serious violation of international law. That’s why there has been such a broad reaction from the international community. We have informed the OPCW, which monitors adherence to the Chemical Weapons Convention.

Will the Federal Government now have to stop the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project, which is designed to bring even more Russian gas directly to Germany?

I hope at least that the Russians won’t force us to change our stance on Nord Stream 2. And anyone calling for the project to be halted needs to be aware of the consequences. Nord Stream 2 involves over 100 companies from twelve European countries, and about half of them from Germany.

Was it a mistake to approve Nord Stream 2?

Certainly the attempted murder of Mr Navalny was not only a grave mistake, but a brutal crime. Restricting the debate exclusively to Nord Stream 2 does not do the case justice.

So Putin can do what he likes, and Germany won’t break off the gas friendship?

We are coordinating an appropriate response with our partners. Ultimately it all depends on what answers we get from Moscow. One thing is clear: if we consider sanctions, they should have as targeted an impact as possible.

What sanctions ever do that? All that happened after the attack on Skripal was that a few Russian diplomats were expelled from Europe.

We will coordinate on this, within the EU in particular, as soon as the Russian side has answered our questions. This insidious crime is such a grave violation of the Chemical Weapons Convention that it cannot escape a tangible response.


Can Alexei Navalny and his wife remain in Germany permanently?

We brought Mr Navalny and his wife to Germany on humanitarian and medical grounds. They are invited to remain our guests.

Following the falsified elections in Belarus, dictator Lukashenko is using violence against the demonstrators. What needs to happen?

Lukashenko must be open to dialogue at long last. I call on Lukashenko to negotiate with the opposition, to repeat the elections, immediately to stop arresting and abusing peaceful demonstrators, and to respect human rights and freedom of the press. As the European Union, we do not recognise the elections and have decided to impose sanctions. We are implementing these now. If Lukashenko does not react, more sanctions will follow.

You met the Chinese Foreign Minister this week. How dangerous is China, given the human rights violations and the fight against the pro-democracy movement in Hong Kong?

We need to address shortcomings clearly. And as the EU, too, we are doing that. The days in which China could slap others down with threats, in this way making them stay silent, are over. At our meeting this week, I told my Chinese counterpart quite clearly that the European Union will adopt a more sovereign and more self-confident stance, also vis‑à‑vis China. We want a good relationship with China, but one between equals and characterised by respect.

US President Trump is calling on his supporters to vote twice – by post and in person – and thus to commit electoral fraud. Is the election under threat?

We have a great deal to be grateful to the US for, and it remains one of our closest partners. However, it is disturbing, yes, that a US President thinks he needs to resort to something like this. I am counting on the American people’s reason and healthy common sense to make sure that this despicable attempt fails, an attempt to sow the seeds of doubt about the election and thus possibly to have a reason to refuse to accept defeat later.

How do you view the protests against racism in the United States?

We Germans in particular should start by sorting out our own problems with structural right-wing extremism and be very cautious about judging racism in other countries. Many people in positions of responsibility in both political camps in the United States have succeeded in very cleverly describing the long-standing problems with racism there. The Americans rightly expect their President not to add fuel to the fire, but to resolve these grave conflicts in American society step by step. It is to be feared, however, that the flames will be fired further during the election campaign. The big task facing the next President will be to reconcile America.

How unfair are the travel warnings? In Mallorca only Palma has high numbers of COVID‑19 infections, not the rest of the island.

Generally, anyone travelling to Mallorca has to arrive via Palma. We cannot assume that affected areas in holiday destinations are hermetically sealed off and that people are only going to be in the places where there happen to be very few infections. That is why travel warnings can only be issued for whole regions or countries. To that extent, they are not unfair, but, unfortunately, necessary. We always respond in coordination with the holiday destinations, which themselves are introducing measures in the affected areas. Up to 40% of new cases at present are tourists returning from a holiday abroad.

Interview conducted by Angelika Hellemann and Thomas Block


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