Germany still believes that diplomacy is key to solving the crisis in Ukraine. The German position isn't, however, very hopeful.
These days, the German government resorts to conditional statements in the subjunctive tense when reacting to reports of the conflict in eastern Ukraine. "Of course, the government would welcome it if the two presidents, Putin and Poroshenko, were to reach an agreement that would clear the way to a ceasefire," government spokesman Steffen Seibert said on Wednesday in Berlin. Earlier, news agencies had reported that Ukraine and Russia had reached agreement on a truce - followed shortly afterwards by a Russian denial.
That same day, Moscow unveiled a seven-point plan for Ukraine, designed to clear the way for peace. German Defense Minister Ursula von der Leyen's reaction was decidedly reserved. "I wish the seven-point plan were a sign of hope," she said. "But in the past, we've often seen that President Putin says something, but does the opposite."
A special approach
The German government has been struggling to find a response to Russia's policies ever since the Ukraine crisis began. Across party lines, politicians haven't tired of saying that only diplomacy can really solve this conflict.
"The chancellor has a special connection to this difficult partner," von der Leyen reiterated on Thursday.
Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has launched numerous initiatives to get talks going - only for a fresh escalation to undo his efforts on more than one occasion. Nevertheless, the Social Democrat insistently repeats that he believes the crisis "can still be solved."
But many politicians also agree that understanding and goodwill alone are not likely to lead to a breakthrough. From the start, only the Left Party demanded policies mainly geared to approaching the government in Moscow. In response to the confusing reports from Ukraine on Wednesday, the party's parliamentary leader Gregor Gysi once again urged lifting the EU sanctions - unlike members of the other parties, who are debating whether the time has come to impose further economic sanctions.
Pressure or saber-rattling
"We have to keep up the pressure on Russia, which is why we urgently need to intensify the sanctions at this point," said Andreas Schockenhoff, a senior conservative lawmaker and harsh critic of Putin's policies.
The president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, argues that the existing sanctions are sufficient. "We don't need saber-rattling," he said. But in the end, the debate is about how serious the conflict would have to become to trigger new sanctions.
There are, however, few illusions within the government that the sanctions will have an effect in the near future. Gernot Erler, the government's coordinator for cooperation with Russia, doesn't mince words: "Presumably, the measures will have little influence on Russian policies because they have different priorities."
There are indications that Germany is prepared for a lengthy crisis in its relationship with Russia. The government is set to support various measures that NATO is expected to decide at its summit in Wales on an increased defense readiness. The measures include a rapid deployment force that would quickly be ready for action on the alliance's eastern borders
Germany is opposed to cancelling the NATO-Russia Act, a move recently urged by Estonian President Toomas Hendrik Ilves. The accord prohibits NATO or Russia from stationing "substantial troops" in eastern Europe. But the fact that Germany holds fast to the document is hardly a sign of hope that the crisis is coming to an end. "We can't demolish what was built over the past 25-30 years," Ursula von der Leyen said on Thursday. "There will be a time after President Putin."
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