German Ambassador to Ukraine: Russia is trying to get across to our public saying Ukraine is to blame for failing to observe Minsk Agreements
Exclusive interview with Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ambassador of the Federal Republic of Germany to Ukraine Ernst Reichel
Question 1: What do you expect from the upcoming visit of the Foreign Ministers of France and Germany Frank-Walter Steinmeier and Jean-Marc Ayrault to Kyiv?
The visit of the two ministers is linked to the negotiation process in the framework of the Normandy format (Germany, Ukraine, France and the Russian Federation), so they are coming together. In addition, Federal Minister Steinmeier chairs the Organization for Cooperation and Security in Europe. Thus, the main issues involve implementation of the Minsk agreements, as well as the activities of the OSCE's Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) in Ukraine on ceasefire in Donbas.
Question 2: Experts note a definite difference in the positions of German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier in relation to the settlement of the conflict in Donbas. Do you agree with this?
From my own working experience in Berlin, I can say that this perception does not match reality. The federal chancellor and the federal minister carefully coordinate their actions, as do their staff. Communication in the Normandy format is carried out at different levels, both at the heads of government level and at ministerial and various official levels. It would be impossible to reasonably work if there wasn't close cooperation.
Question 3: What actions do Germany and the European partners expect from Ukraine in the context of the conflict settlement in Donbas?
Germany expects from both sides, including Ukraine, constructive and intensive work on implementing the Minsk agreements. This means a full ceasefire, withdrawal of heavy weapons and ensuring a political settlement reached in Minsk. It means that in this conflict, which is regulated by the Minsk agreements, Ukraine cannot assert 100% of its interests but will have to make certain concessions.
We are strongly convinced that it is more beneficial for Ukraine to have the Minsk agreements at its disposal and implement them rather than to be in a situation where there are no agreements with Russia. And I was glad Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko confirmed this during his speech in the Verkhovna Rada.
Question 4: You have already had a meeting with President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko. Do you have more optimistic look at the situation with the conflict settlement in Donbas?
We didn't talk about the conflict in detail, so I would not like to draw any conclusion, but Poroshenko's stance is to stand firmly for complete implementation of the Minsk agreements and that is good in our opinion. Of course, this does not negate the fact that much remains to be discussed and resolved in details, and there are difficulties in this regard.
Question 5: Many German business structures are increasingly calling for lifting or at least weakening of sanctions on Russia, although Germany is one of the most die-hard of the EU countries in this regard. Can we expect changes?
I know that Ukraine is attentively monitoring the discussions held among German economic associations and individual businessmen. I have an impression that maybe you pay too much attention to this issue. We have an open pluralistic discussion and everyone can present his or her opinion. There are different opinions. A broad consensus has been reached at the political level, maybe apart from "The Left Party," which used to be the Communist party of the GDR. At present there are no conditions for lifting sanctions. Ukraine should not provide any reasons to doubt that it fulfills the Minsk agreements. After all, this is exactly what Russia is trying to convey to our society, namely, that Ukraine is to blame for the non-fulfillment of the Minsk agreements.
Question 6: In 2017 many European countries hold parliamentary elections, including Germany. Political sentiments are changing and the success of AfD party ("Alternative for Germany") demonstrates it. We see how the political structure is changing in many countries. Do you think this may hinder Ukraine's European integration in the future?
Indeed, many EU countries are now going through a phase of populism, a kind of "fatigue" from EU enlargement, but it didn't emerge yesterday. It has been going on for several years. Nevertheless, the EU has consistently pursued its enlargement policy. But if we follow the EU policy regarding enlargement or convergence of third countries during the last 10-20 years, it is becoming evident that the requirements have become higher. This is due both to the public mood, and the fact that during the previous rounds of enlargement, we clearly realized that we need to pay special attention to certain things. And it means, first of all, that the EU criteria are met not only in the laws and declarations of intent, but that they are effectively put into practice.
Question 7: Can Ukraine expect to get a visa-free regime until the end of 2016?
Now this decision is legislatively processed in the EU. The European Commission, as you know, decided that Ukraine has fulfilled all the requirements necessary to obtain a visa-free regime, but with the caveat that further reforming steps must be executed.
Thus, we can say that we are working in a parallel way - the European Union is working within the framework of its legislative process, and Ukraine must still take steps to create the appropriate conditions. I want to say that the process is progressing well. I wouldn't like to speculate about the specific period of time, as many steps have still to be taken. And I understand that Ukraine is impatient in its own way, as all countries that expect such decisions. But if you look at the history of this issue, then you understand that two or three months do not make that much of a difference.
Question 8: All the ambassadors have specific functions, but each ambassador brings something peculiar for him. Your work in Ukraine falls on hard times for the country. What kind of the ambassador would you like to be? What is best to be remembered for?
To have been the best of all (laughing). My actions should correspond to Germany's role in Ukraine at present time. That means focusing on two things. The first is the implementation of the Minsk agreements. The second is the continuation of the reforms dynamics. I am convinced that Ukraine's economic development is directly depends on the implementation of the reforms. There are good examples of Central and Eastern Europe countries, so I see no reasons why Ukraine can't go that way, if it is able to take the necessary decisions. In this context, I am not talking about the former German Democratic Republic, which was a very specific case, but rather of the Baltic States, Poland and others which have undergone an incredible way of development over the past 25 years. These are two key aspects. If Ukraine is able to make progress in these two aspects, its position will become much better.