1. Skip to content
  2. Skip to main menu
  3. Skip to more DW sites

'No military solution'

Interview: Sabrina Pabst / sad
April 25, 2014

After clashes in eastern Ukraine, European parliamentarian Rebecca Harms suggests tougher sanctions against Russia. She tells DW that Russian President Putin is isolating himself from the international community.

Rebecca Harms (Photo: Luisa Frey / DW)
Image: DW/L. Frey

According to the government in Kyiv, Ukrainian forces have killed several pro-Russian fighters in eastern Ukraine. In an interview in "Russia Today" on Wednesday (23.04.2014), Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov sharpened his tone in criticizing Kyiv's increasing "anti-terrorist" operations targeting separatists.

Deutsche Welle: Do these deaths represent a new level in the escalation of the conflict over eastern Ukraine?

Rebecca Harms: I have my doubts about the current Ukrainian strategy of anti-terror measures. From the start, I criticized deployment of the Ukrainian military against so-called separatists, regardless of where they are coming from. I understand that Kyiv uses its army to control its borders, and is also trying to guard its infrastructure. But I do believe that the conflict in cities of eastern Ukraine - which is about the country's orientation and a new democratic beginning - cannot be led by the military, despite heavily armed separatists. This conflict cannot be solved militarily.

Russia is strengthening its presence on the border and carrying out military maneuvers. Such demonstrations of power don't comply with the declaration that both Russia and Ukraine signed a week ago in Geneva to de-escalate the situation.

Many things are violating the Geneva declaration. I have not heard Mr. Lavrov, or for example President Putin, explicitly speak out in favor of the separatists laying down their weapons. That would be in the spirit of this Geneva declaration. Until now, Russia has not at all made clear that it is not responsible for the destabilization of eastern Ukraine.

Poland and the Baltic countries have requested that NATO send troops to the Russian border. Does that amount to saber-rattling on both sides, then?

I would not put sending some NATO troops to Eastern European states at the same level with the occupation of Crimea or with the Russian army's amassing on Russia's western border. That plays at a very different dimension, the NATO troops were placed there at the request of European Union member states - and this is not large amounts of NATO troops. I think what's happening there is symbolic. It's a reaction to a very large Russian army that has been positioned on the border between Ukraine and Russia, and which I do not see as necesary. I could also do without the NATO activities.

Nevertheless, I continue to be of the opinion that there can be no military solution to the conflict between Ukraine and Russia, which Russia very strongly led in its occupation of Crimea. I believe that the path the Europeans have pursued has been correct. That after Russia's violation of international law in Crimea, they imposed targeted sanctions for example not only against Russians, but also against Ukrainians who were guilty of crimes against humanity, or who demonstrated gross corruption.

I believe further thinking along the line of non-military sanctions should be taking place, in order to make clear that the EU does not accept this behavior on the part of Russia, and that the EU champions non-military means to assure Ukraine's self-determination and territorial integrity.

Efforts so far have not seemed to have made an impression on Putin as he continues to pursue a hard line. Does the EU have any possibilities left for de-escalation?

An armed man in military fatigues stands guard outside a regional administration building seized by pro-Russian separatists in the eastern Ukrainian city of Slavyansk on April 24, 2014. (Photo: KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images)
Unrest in Slovyansk continues to simmerImage: KIRILL KUDRYAVTSEV/AFP/Getty Images

I think that if Russia continues on the path it began in Crimea, then indeed the economic relations that have been working well between the EU and Russia need to be revisited.

Russia cannot simply use ethnic rationale to shift borders on the European continent. Russia committed a drastic breach of international law without acceptable justification, which from Russia's side was that it had to protect Russians or Russian-speaking Ukrainians from being threatened in Ukraine. I have never had any interest in seeing Russia become isolated, but I now have the impression that in Russia, a president and an administration are electing for this to happen. They're nearly indifferent to what the international community says regarding their course of action.

Wouldn't further sanctions isolate Russia? And wouldn't that be a step that you've always rejected until now?

I believe that economic relations with Russia need to be reconsidered. Russia is no longer a member of the G8. G8 is back to being the G7. But it's the Russian administration deciding for itself this path into isolation.

Rebecca Harms is party leader for the Greens in the European Parliament. She is also a member of the delegation for cooperation between the EU and Ukraine.