German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier has said that attempts to break EU unity on sanctions against Russia will fail. He hopes that new working groups will bring calm to the conflict in eastern Ukraine.
During a two-day tour of the Baltic Sea region, Steinmeier (pictured above, left) said on Thursday that speculative Russian strategies such as offering to remove trade embargoes against individual EU member states will not succeed.
"It might be that there are some attempts like this and there will be in the future. There were such attempts and they were not successful," Steinmeier said.
Despite controversial debates over the issue between EU member states, Steinmeier said that unity had prevailed.
"Our decision was taken, so I think the attempt to split Europe will fail," the German foreign minister said.
Hopes for calm
Steinmeier also said on Thursday that new working groups, agreed upon at a meeting between German, French, Russian and Ukrainian foreign ministers in Berlin on Monday evening, can now begin their talks as they work to implement the truce.
"I hope that, through the meeting in Berlin, we've instigated a state of affairs in which things can now calm down a bit," Steinmeier said in the Finnish capital, Helsinki.
The Minsk peace deal, agreed between the Ukraine military and pro-Russian separatist rebels in February, has been violated by both sides on numerous occasions, particularly in areas near to Donetsk airport and the coastal city of Mariupol.
Steinmeier criticized on Thursday that the Organization for Security and Cooperation (OSCE), which was responsible for monitoring the truce, only had access to about half of the conflict zone.
Threat to eastern Europe
After beginning his tour of the Baltic Sea region in Finland on Thursday morning, Steinmeier traveled on to Lithuania in the afternoon, from where he was set to continue to Estonia and Latvia.
There are growing fears among the eastern European countries, that as direct NATO-neighbors to Russia, the ongoing Ukraine conflict could pose a threat to their own security. As a result, NATO has significantly increased its presence in eastern Europe in recent months. Germany's participation has been particularly significant in establishing a Quick Reaction Force.
On Thursday, Steinmeier expressed his understanding for the concerns, adding that Germany had taken a "great deal of responsibility" in the interest of the Baltic Sea region states from the onset of the conflict in Ukraine.
Earlier in the day, Russian President Vladimir Putin rejected claims of Russian support for rebels in Ukraine. In a major television address, Putin said he believed war between Russia and Ukraine to be "impossible."
'Aggressive Russian propaganda'
During his visit to the Lithuanian capital, Vilnius, on Thursday afternoon, the German foreign minister also pledged his country's support for the establishment of new media services for the Lithuania's Russian minority.
"The propaganda from Russia is becoming more aggressive," complained Lithuanian Foreign Minister Lintas Linkevicius (pictured above, right). Similar programs are also planned for neighboring Latvia and Estonia.
The German foreign minister warned, however, that "it would not be a democratic decision to answer propaganda," and instead suggested helping to train Lithuanian journalists in Germany.
ksb/msh (Reuters, dpa)