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Merkel opens Germany-Ukraine forum

November 29, 2018

Chancellor Merkel pledged to press Vladimir Putin over the latest escalation in Ukraine while opening a key Berlin conference with Ukrainian officials. Ukraine's Poroshenko has asked NATO for naval assistance.

Angela Merkel at the forum
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/M. Kappeler

There is "no military solution" tothe conflict between Russia and Ukraine, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said during her opening speech of the third annual German-Ukrainian economic forum in Berlin Thursday.

Merkel blamed Russia for the rise in tensions, after Russia captured three Ukrainian vessels in the Sea of Azov this week. The incident triggered a sharp escalation in warlike posturing on both sides of the conflict.

"The full blame for this goes to the Russian president," she said. "Now what I want is that the facts of what happened are put on the table, that the (crew) are released, and that no confessions are coerced like we have seen on television."

The German chancellor also said she would press Russian President Vladimir Putin on the issue at this week's G-20 summit in Argentina. During the speech, she also urged Russia to free the detained Ukrainian sailors and that "no confessions are coerced like we have seen on television."

"We ask the Ukrainian side too to be sensible because we know that we can only solve things through being reasonable and through dialogue," she added, calling on Russia to return the ships and ensure naval access to the Sea of Azov and the Ukrainian coastal city of Mariupol.

"I would like to find common ground with Russia again," Merkel said.

Looking for business in Ukraine

Merkel also said that Germans "cannot close our eyes" to Moscow's aggressive policies in Ukraine and other nations which prevent those states from "developing in the way they want."

Read more: Germany offers to mediate between Russia and Ukraine

The conference, attended by Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman, is expected to cover local reform efforts and potential opportunities for increased economic relations between Germany and Ukraine.

But it comes hours after Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko urged Merkel to help Kyiv militarily, calling her "one of our closest allies."

'Assist Ukraine'

In an interview with Berlin-based Bild newspaper, Poroshenko said NATO should deploy naval vessels to the Sea of Azov to "assist Ukraine" and deter Russian military maneuvers.

Merkel is seen as a key mediator between Moscow and Kyiv. She played an instrumental role in securing ceasefire agreements between pro-Russia rebels and Ukraine in the country's volatile eastern regions.

German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier and Eric Schweitzer, president of the Association of German Chambers of Industry and Commerce, are also scheduled to speak at the conference.

Read more: Opinion: Ukraine's stalled revolution

Crimea: The German perspective

Business or security?

Earlier this month, Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Olena Zerkal expressed concerns over Germany's continued involvement in building the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which is due to open next year. The pipeline is expected to lessen German dependency on eastern European energy sources.

When asked whether Ukrainian opposition to the German-Russian pipeline was about business or security, Zerkal told DW: "For us, it's about security, and it's definitely not about the revenues. It's about the guarantee of our security and the pipeline we have is a kind of guarantee for us." She said lost revenues could amount to the cost of maintaining the country's armed forces.

But Altmaier said the Sea of Azov crisis and Nord Stream 2 are two separate issues. He told public broadcaster ARD's Morgenmagazin that German companies are not investing "for or against Russia" in Ukraine. "It's about helping people. When jobs are created in Ukraine, it is very important for the people."

Read more: 'Nord Stream 2 to pump, but Ukraine gas transit will remain'

Ukraine worried about Nord Stream 2 pipeline

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ls,dj/rt (AFP, Reuters, dpa)