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Gunther Krichbaum
Image: www.gunther-krichbaum.de

Time for action

Interview: Marco Müller / jrb
April 18, 2014

The Ukrainian crisis summit in Geneva has produced a peace plan. Gunther Krichbaum, chairman of the European Affairs Committee of the German Bundestag, welcomes the agreement, but doesn’t view it as a breakthrough.


DW: The European Union, the United States, Russia and Ukraine agreed in Geneva to a de-escalation for Ukraine. Is this the long-sought breakthrough everyone has been waiting for?

Gunther Krichbaum: The agreement in Geneva is definitely an encouraging signal, and the European Affairs Committee welcomes it fully. That said, I don't view it as a breakthrough. I will only talk about a breakthrough when deeds follow.

All parties in the conflict were called on to end violence, intimidation and provocation. All "illegally armed groups" should be disarmed, and all illegally occupied buildings, streets and squares should be vacated. The observer mission headed by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe should monitor all of this. That sounds good, but do you expect problems with the implementation?

It was correct to give the OSCE the mandate here. Within the OSCE, we have an international negotiating format that Russia has been involved in since before the situation started. Speaking of Russia, everything hinges on Putin's government. In the past, Moscow was the key to solving this entire conflict and it remains so today. So Russia needs to extinguish the fire it has fanned in Ukraine in recent weeks.

There was no joint press conference of foreign ministers involved in the negotiations. Instead, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov rushed ahead to be the first to read the joint statement. That move doesn't exactly give an expression of a common position. How do you view this?

In recent weeks, Russia has gambled away an enormous amount of trust. We've fallen back into the Cold War pattern. People are deeply worried in the Baltic countries and in Poland as well as in Georgia and Moldova, both of which perhaps have been given too little attention in the past. These countries also have so-called "frozen conflicts." That means that the central government no longer has access to all parts of its own country. For instance, Moldavians are very nervous about their frozen conflict with Transnistria whose "president" Yevgeny Shevchuk recently announced his interest in joining the Russian Federation. Now it's up to Russia follow up on the announced agreement with action.

After the agreement was announced, Lavrov accused the Kyiv government of turning troops on its own people and threatening the rights of the Russian-speaking minority. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsia, on the other hand, said Ukraine continues to disagree with Russia over the root causes of the conflict and that the two have yet to reach common ground on the territorial integrality of Ukraine. That gives the impression of a very fragile negotiated peace agreement. Would you agree?

Yes, it is fragile. But now we can also see an opportunity to achieve peace. That didn't appear to be the case just a few days ago. That's why we need to build on this deal. On the one hand, it's the task of international organizations to actively and constructively pursue a course of expanding trust in Ukraine. On the other, Ukraine and, of course, its regions must also be willing to work together more closely than they have in the past. In Ukraine, we are dealing not only with a division of the country, with Ukrainian speakers on the one side and Russian speakers on the other; Ukraine consists of many regions and is much more diverse than is perceived abroad. When you speak about regionalization, you have to think totally free of ideology about how much responsibility you can give each region without endangering the overall state of Ukraine, which has to be preserved.

What about Crimea, which wasn't mentioned in the joint statement? Russia annexes Crimea and that's it?

Ukraine naturally assumes that the agreement includes Crimea. Russia, on the other hand, was able to sign the agreement because it assumes Crimea is not part of a future agreement. In the end, there was an agreement but the Crimean issue was covered over. For that reason, we need to keep applying pressure. A referendum the way we understand it did not happen in Crimea. A regional referendum where a single region votes to declare independence - is not possible valid under the Ukrainian constitution. What applies to Ukraine also naturally applies to other countries. People have the right to self-determination. But it is the state that has to decide. This is the sovereignty of every country and must be respected. We now need to ensure that this very fragile peace doesn't remain a "verbal" peace but rather a real one. After all, it's about the future of Ukraine.

Gunther Krichbaum is chairman of the European Affairs Committee of the German Bundestag . A member of the Christian Democratic Union, he has been a member of the Bundestag since 2002.

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