First, cover up; next, deny all responsibility and sow confusion through disinformation; finally, make criminals out of victims. What sounds like a page out of an old spy manual is, in a nutshell, nothing other than the script followed by Moscow over the past few months – after the cyber attack on the Bundestag, after the murder in Berlin’s Tiergarten district and, lastly, in its dealings with Alexei Navalny.
That is why I first want to refresh our memory by mentioning the facts. Our demand that the crimes I referred to be investigated and the perpetrators identified was met with partly absurd accusations against the Federal Government, or with the cynical allegation that Alexei Navalny must have poisoned himself. Appeals that international legal obligations under the Chemical Weapons Convention and international human rights conventions must be met were rebuffed as meddling in internal affairs and ignored. And protests by the Russian people against the detention of Alexei Navalny, against arbitrary justice and corruption, are being violently put down.
Ladies and gentlemen, what this is about and what we are defending here is adherence to fundamental principles of international law. It is about human rights, and also about our values.
That is why we continue to call on Moscow to immediately release Alexei Navalny and the demonstrators who have been arrested.
And we do this also because those who were taken into custody there are doing nothing more than demanding the freedoms they are afforded by the Russian constitution, and that they are being denied by the Russian state.
Ladies and gentlemen, we have given a clear and above all European response to the unjustified expulsion of three European diplomats. I very much regret the fact that Moscow did not use the visit of Josep Borrell to seek areas of common interest in spite of all differences.
Instead, we experienced a carefully staged propaganda show and targeted provocation – and that is much more than merely a missed opportunity. That is why, at our next EU Foreign Affairs Council on 22 February, we will have to discuss how to react to Russia’s behaviour and to how it is treating members of the opposition and peaceful demonstrators. We would be glad if we did not have to do this.
Because one of the options in this connection is sanctions, I want to say two things that are very important to me:
Firstly, sanctions are linked to clear, practicable demands for a change in behaviour. Even if no changes in behaviour can be expected, sanctions can send the signal that certain behaviours will not be accepted without any consequences. This was the case when we responded to the annexation of Crimea and to Russia’s actions in eastern Ukraine, and it must also be the case now.
Secondly – and this is something I must add – sanctions must target the right people. In this case, they should target those responsible for the repressive action by the state against its own citizens, not the employees of nearly 150 European companies, most of which are based in Germany.
And now I will address Nord Stream 2, because that is at the heart of the matter for those who have called for today’s parliamentary debate. Anyone who fundamentally calls into question Nord Stream 2 – and this is a reasonable point of view – must also think, at least in geostrategic terms, about the consequences it would have, and how that would impact Europe’s leverage vis-à-vis Russia. I am happy to have that debate; but we could talk about other energy imports, as well. There are countries, after all, that are calling on us to stop construction work even though they themselves are currently increasing the amount of Russian heavy crude oil they are transporting or importing. We also need to talk about what this would do in terms of the potential for escalation – because that is what this would ultimately do. You say that, in view of what is happening in Russia, we must stop doing business with Russia. In the end, every business transaction we make with Russia also benefits the state – and this holds true across the board; so what it would mean is the complete economic isolation of Russia.
There is a similar ongoing debate in our dealings with China; the term used there is “decoupling”. There, too, it means nothing less than the economic isolation of China. Whether or not that can even work in a globalised world is another question. However, you should be completely aware of what this would lead to in geostrategic terms. You would thereby be driving Russia and China into each other’s arms, and thereby also be creating the largest economic and military alliance in the world. And I do not think this should be the West’s strategy when critically engaging with Russia.
So in this matter I am against burning all bridges with Russia.
I am currently the Chairman of the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers. I have been told that we should once again kick Russia out of the Council of Europe. Last year, we succeeded, in a joint effort with France and Finland, in keeping them in. For I have never understood what the point would be of excluding Russia from this forum. Thanks to Russia’s membership of the Council of Europe, millions of Russian citizens continue to have access to the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg. Shall we take that access away from them? Even though we criticise Russia for not implementing the rulings, we thereby still have the option of exerting pressure, through the European Court of Human Rights, with a view to upholding civil rights in Russia. I take a dim view of bridge-burning as a strategy. Not only is it wrong, but also dangerous, ladies and gentlemen.
We have made many offers for cooperation, including in the spheres of climate and sustainability, and most recently with regard to fighting the pandemic. Josep Borell, for his part, yet underscored Europe’s desire for a constructive relationship during his visit to Moscow. I am also grateful to him for doing this especially at this difficult time. We have requested a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council – and today we are still waiting for Russia to respond to this request. In response to Russia’s announcement that it intends to withdraw from the Open Skies Treaty, we drew up a package together with 15 other Foreign Ministers and presented it as an offer for dialogue. So far, Russia has not reacted in any way to this.
That’s why I say that, the tougher the going gets, the clearer our messages to Moscow must be. That said, we also have an interest in a better relationship between Europe and Russia – and we remain willing to engage in dialogue. Yet the key to making this happen is not in Berlin or in Brussels; it is in Moscow.
Thank you very much.