Resolving the conflict with diplomatic means

01.12.2018 - Interview

Foreign Minister Heiko Mass in an interview with the “Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung” on the conflict in Ukraine, climate change and the United States’ possible withdrawal from the INF Treaty.

Fear of war in Ukraine. The Ukrainian President Poroshenko fears a Russian invasion and asks Germany for help. What are you going to do?

Russia’s actions against Ukrainian ships are unacceptable. The Sea of Azov cannot become a new source of conflict that ultimately threatens our security in Europe. And although we appreciate Ukraine’s concerns, we do not want to see a militarisation of the conflict. We are therefore doing everything in our power to put an end to this crisis through diplomacy. We are often speaking on the telephone and holding a great deal of talks at the present time. I myself have been in touch with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, among others. This conflict is to be be resolved not with military, but with diplomatic means.

Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is offering his services as a mediator in this conflict. Is that a good offer?

Anyone who has a serious interest in a diplomatic solution is always welcome. The extent to which the Turkish President is the right mediator remains to be seen.

What about the German-Russian natural gas project Nord Stream 2? Should it be put on ice, as Ukraine and the US are calling for?

This is a business project. Nobody would stand to benefit if the German and European companies were to pull out. We have made it clear that Nord Stream 2 is only viable if the gas transit through Ukraine is safeguarded also beyond 2019. We have obtained this assurance from the Russians. It is clearly in Europe’s interest that Ukraine should continue to be a transit country for Russian gas.

But Ukraine itself sees this differently than you – why?

Ukraine is operating under the assumption that the international community could prevent construction work from being carried out. However, this is a project being conducted by the shareholding companies. We will nevertheless make sure that the existing gas pipeline through Ukraine, which is a source of revenue for Kyiv at the end of the day, remains in place in the future.

Why hasn’t there been a UN mission for the conflict between Russia and Ukraine to date? There appears to be consensus here ...

This is true, but both sides have very different ideas about the concrete form this should take. Putin wants a small format while Poroshenko expects a robust mission. We must reconcile these different interests. We will also use the UN Security Council, in which Germany will be represented from 1 January, as a forum. We won’t let up. The Minsk peace process is so deadlocked that fresh impetus is urgently needed. A UN mission would be an important part of this.

Is Poroshenko escalating the conflict? Did he declare martial law also in order to win his presidential election?

The free and fair conduct of the elections in March is of vital importance to the future of Ukraine. It is therefore welcome that martial law is initially limited to 30 days and is set to end when the election campaign begins.

But only under pressure from Parliament, and not because that was what Poroshenko wanted ...

... but still.

Taken the other way round, what options remain if Russia’s President Putin wants to improve his standing on the domestic stage once again with demonstrations of power? That was also his reason for annexing Crimea ...

EU sanctions against Russia are in place, of course, which are extended every six months. In the light of current events, the probability that anyone in the EU would want to back away from these sanctions is more likely to have decreased – Russia, on the other hand, will also have no interest in further sanctions being imposed.

The Russian interpretation of the situation makes out a pattern: whenever an extension of sanctions or international meetings such as the G20 Summit right now are imminent, Ukraine claims the danger of war to be particularly great ...

The various interpretations are very different. However, based on the facts known to us so far, there is no justification for the use of military violence by the Russian forces.

The climate conference is scheduled to start in Poland next week. Germany is, if we think of lignite or brown coal, no longer a pioneer in the area of climate protection. Is climate protection no longer so important?

No, quite the opposite. Over the next two years, we will make very intensive use of Germany’s membership of the Security Council to ensure that climate change is a priority issue. If we don’t manage to limit global warming to well below 2°C, and if possible to 1.5°C, then the impacts of climate change will overwhelm many countries.

Rising sea levels are threatening the existence of whole nations.

Climate issues affect our entire planet, which is why we can only offer global responses. These responses must come from industrialised countries in particular. Germany must continue to lead by example in climate protection. In Katowice, we want to reach an agreement on rules for everyone that are as transparent and robust as possible. This is the only way for us to ensure that, in the end, we have a clear picture of our joint progress towards implementing the climate agreement.

Let’s talk about another issue. The Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty between Russia and the US is in danger because US President Donald Trump has threatened to withdraw from it. Will this be on the agenda at the meeting of NATO Foreign Minister on 4 December?

Yes. And we are under no illusions here. The US position on this issue is very clear. Unfortunately, the Russians have not helped in any serious way to refute the accusation of treaty violation. We must therefore be prepared for the US to terminate the treaty. I very much regret this.

Moscow is threatening to take countermeasures. If Trump takes the US out of the treaty, then this would make the world a more dangerous place ...

Trump’s predecessor Barack Obama drew attention to Russian infringements of the treaty relating to medium-range missiles. So the Russians had plenty of time to clarify things. But nothing happened. We now face a difficult debate. However, even during the Cold War, there was dialogue for creating transparency and preventing misinterpretations. That’s where we want to begin, and we will work in the coming months to bring European partners on board. We have to do everything in our power to put an end to the global arms race. The survival of the human race is at stake here. We don’t want Europe to become the scene of a debate on a nuclear arms build up.

Meaning what, exactly?

If we want to preserve peace in Europe, then we must rethink disarmament policy. Some of the current regulations are flawed. For example, China’s massive arms build-up has not been flanked by any confidence-building measures whatsoever to date. We must promote greater transparency and arms control there as well. Everything must be put on the table. Our regulations must keep pace with the constant technological development of new weapons. This has long since stopped being exclusively a question of conventional missiles and bombs, but is also about bits and bytes. Some things may still smack of science fiction to us – space weapons, for example, or missiles travelling at many times the speed of sound. But if we do not take far sighted action, science fiction may soon become deadly reality. I’m also thinking here of autonomous weapons systems that kill without any human control. This is something that we have to look into very intensively.


Top of page