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Munich conference exposes divisions over Ukraine

February 7, 2015

The Munich Security Conference has brought key players in the Ukraine conflict together in one venue. It has shown not only how far apart the West and Russia are, but there are also differences among Western allies.

Deutschland Münchner Sicherheitskonferenz 2015 MSC Angela Merkel
Image: Reuters/M. Rehle

Saturday's session of the annual Munich Security Conference began with a speech by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who took the podium just hours after returning from Moscow, where she and French President Francois Hollande presented a new peace initiative to Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In her first direct comments since Friday's more than four hours of talks, the chancellor did not appear overly optimistic that the German-French initiative would bring an end to the fighting between pro-Russia separatists and government forces in eastern Ukraine.

"After the talks yesterday in Moscow that the French president and I had, it is uncertain if it will succeed," Merkel said.

"But it is in my view and the French president's view definitely worth trying. We owe it to the people affected in Ukraine, at the very least," the chancellor said.

Addressing the conference a little later, Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov seemed slightly more optimistic.

"These talks will continue as you know; we believe there is every possibility that we will reach a result and agree the recommendations that will allow the sides to really untie this knot of a conflict," Russia's top diplomat said.

Blaming the West

However, he also took the opportunity to lay the blame for the 10-month-old conflict squarely on the West.

Deutschland Münchner Sicherheitskonferenz 2015 MSC Sergei Lawrow
Lavrov lashed out at the WestImage: Reuters/M. Dalder

"The United States and the European Union have taken steps to escalate the Ukraine crisis at every turn," Lavrov said.

He also denounced "growing appeals in the West to ... pump Ukraine full with lethal weapons and to involve it in NATO."

Discord over supplying weapons

This followed an earlier statement made to a group of reporters by the military commander of NATO, US Air Force General Philip Breedlove, who said the Western alliance should not rule out the idea of providing weapons to Ukraine.

However, responding to a question from an American senator following her speech, Chancellor Merkel reiterated Germany's position, which is strictly against supplying Kyiv with more weapons.

"The problem is that I cannot imagine any situation in which improved equipment for the Ukrainian army leads to President Putin being so impressed that he believes he will lose militarily," she said. "I have to put it that bluntly."

"This is why we have decided to focus our efforts on seeking a diplomatic solution," she concluded.

Merkel also held talks on the sidelines of the Conference with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and US Vice President Joe Biden.

pfd/rc (dpa, AP, Reuters, AFP)