Interview

Ambassadors of Germany and France: Anti-corruption court should become the key element of anti-corruption system in Ukraine

Interfax-Ukraine interview with the German and French ambassadors to Ukraine, Ernst Reichel and Isabelle Dumont

IU: What results would the participants of the Normandy four want to achieve before the presidential elections in Ukraine?

Isabelle Dumont [ID]: What is extremely important in our view is that the ceasefire is respected. That the basic principles of the Minsk agreements are respected. That means the ceasefire, the withdrawal of heavy weapons. It has to start with that. We had achievements already, very important achievements. I want to emphasize the exchange of prisoners in December, that was one of the concrete results of the Normandy Four discussions. This has to be continued. But we know that the ceasefire is not respected. This is really the first thing that needs to be done,. We know from examples over the past years that it can be done. We had ceasefires in the past, so we know it is possible. It really needs to be achieved.

Ernst Reichel [ER]: I am not a believer in what is sometimes said that once we enter the hot phase of the election campaign, then nothing can be achieved politically. I don't think this is true in the global sense. What I think we will keep trying to achieve is to get implementation of the Minsk agreements as much as possible. And that means in the first instance what Isabelle said, as a first important major step, a real ceasefire and withdrawal of heavy weapons from the contact line as agreed so many times. It's not rocket science. It is not impossible, it only takes the political will to do this.

IU: About the Minsk agreements. Was the project of the "road map" of Minsk agreement implementation agreed with Russian side? How is the process going?

ER: It was agreed in the Normandy format to work on a roadmap. The roadmap, as such, was as a vehicle to come to a focus discussion on what divides the two sides on the implementation of the Minsk agreements. So, they had something to discuss about, not only exchange positions. However, as maybe was to be expected, the discussions on the roadmap showed that there are basic differences in particular in the timing of the steps. We have Ukraine and France and Germany who say that first we need the ceasefire and withdrawal of heavy weapons. We have Russia, which insists on the political points which are contained in the Minsk agreement. Whether we discuss this with the help of a draft roadmap or without one - it turns out the differences remain and therefore there is no agreed text.

ID: I would like to add that the roadmap also intended to be concrete, to have a concrete impact on the populations. It's not just a philosophical discussion. It's for the population.

IU: What is the connection of U.S.-Russia talks on discussion of the "road map"?

ID: Any time U.S. Special Representative on Ukraine Kurt Volker has discussions on Ukraine, there are consultations with French and German officials. So, there is very close cooperation between the three countries, between their capitals. This is actually quite smooth. There is no difference in the substance of what is the aim, which is the implementation of the Minsk agreements, ceasefire, et cetera. And there is extremely close cooperation, which means that the capitals talk with each other constantly, several times a week, practically on an everyday basis.

IU: Do you think it may be useful for the peace-negotiations to extend Normandy format by engaging more participants?

ER: There is a rule that has developed from experience which says that the more participants involved in the negotiations, the more complicated they become. Therefore, I think there is good reason to have the format as it is. Fact is there has been no proposal made f. e. by the United States to join the format. Also, please consider that the main, top level, is heads of state and government. And if you want more participants in the negotiations you have to make sure that these participants send their heads of state or government. So, I think, practically, it is a question whether there is a gain to be achieved by involving other countries. And the fact that we haven't had progress, in my conviction, has nothing to do with how the format is composed. As we discussed, there are fundamental differences between in particular Russia and Ukraine.

ID: I totally agree. In other words: the format is the tool, not the objective. We should not forget that. The objective is peace, so, as long as the objective is a problem, changing the tool will not help. On the contrary, now that the tool is working, that people know each other, that there are meetings, the best way is to use this format as much as we can.

IU: Can we tell that there is a progress concerning UN peacekeeping mission in Donbass?

ID: The UN peacekeeping mission is also a potential tool. To have a peacekeeping mission, by definition, you need to have peace to start with that. Currently this is not the case. Then we need  to define the parameters. You need to avoid that the UN would sort of support freezing of the conflict. This is something we are extremely careful about. This is why now there is important work to do on the substance of what we are talking about. What sort of peacekeeping mission? What are the parameters for a peacekeeping mission? I am not just talking about numbers. Now there is no agreement between Ukraine and Russia about those parameters. It's not about numbers or nationalities. It's more fundamental, about what sort of peacekeeping mission there should be. Also, we are working extremely closely with the Americans in the UN Security Council …

ER: Our conviction is that a peacekeeping operation by the UN can be a useful tool in the implementation of the Minsk agreements, but also here we have fundamental differences. It so happens that every time there is an issue, you throw up the issue for discussion and the same fundamental differences appear. Nevertheless, this kind of debate is necessary and good because we have to be patient and wait for the moment when the fundamentals of the conflict change and there is an actual chance. And we have to keep probing to see whether there is a moment when this kind of chance occurs. That's why this peacekeeping discussion we have had and are having is useful. So far, the probe hasn't revealed that there is any change, but we will keep on going now, for instance, after the Russian presidential elections some people say there is a window of opportunity. We will see.

Фото: Copyright by German Embassy

IU: If one part of the Minsk agreement will be implementing, but other parts cannot be implementing, will the conflict be frozen?

ID: Clearly, with our two countries being part of the Normandy Format since the beginning, I can tell you that our aim is precisely to avoid freezing the conflict. The Minsk agreements were drafted in February 2015 precisely with the aim of stopping the escalation and avoiding to create one more frozen conflict. All our efforts we have been deploying over nearly the past four years every day and in our capitals precisely intended to  avoid this. I understand that some people have the feeling that nothing is happening, but  believe me, our efforts have not diminished. All the time there are discussions, phone calls, meetings. They are not always very visible, but they are constant. The roadmap that was discussed, mentioned by Ernst Reichel, is also with this aim.

ER: There is obviously a danger of a freezing of the conflict, but the facts on the ground as we speak are that there is no freezing of the conflict because the ceasefire is being violated. So, one has to ask the question whether it’s in the interest, in particular of Russia in this particular case, to actually achieve a freezing. Because if they had wanted that they could have achieved it already. On our side - and that includes again Ukraine - we insist that once a ceasefire has been established then the political process has to continue. And the entire program of the Minsk agreements, which runs from stopping the fighting to reestablishing Ukrainian sovereignty over the entire territory, has to be run through, as Isabelle said.

IU : In your opinion, is it necessary to impose international transitional administration in Donbass and when? What functions may it have?

ER: That's a little bit a hypothetical question, because the Minsk agreements don't speak about UN administration. The matter has also not been discussed in the existing formats. We all agree that the first thing that needs to happen is a ceasefire. We are not in a position right now to really go into this matter. We would have to have a look at it. There are a lot of precedents in various forms of UN peacekeeping operations, in particular in the Balkans, but which precedent really fits and is acceptable to all sides involved is an open question at this point in time.

IU: Will the shipment of weapons from, for example, the USA influence the situation in Donbas?

ID: The will of Ukrainian authorities to get weapons to defend themselves is perfectly understandable in a complex situation. On the other hand, in any conflict providing more weapons naturally doesn't help to solve the conflict. The more weapons you have the more risk there is for them to be used. This is why on our side we are not supplying weapons. Defensive weapons are one thing, and obviously Ukraine should be able to defend its sovereignty

ER: Also, one also has to bear in mind that the weapons from the United States we are talking about now are weapons that have no direct relationship to the fighting which is ongoing in Donbas. The most quoted weaponry is the Javelin anti-tank missiles, but there is no tank battle in Donbas. So, you see, the provision of these weapons is symbolic and it is a precaution against an eventual, more massive attack. So, it is not a contribution to the direct solution of the conflict in Donbas. As far as Germany is concerned, we have a decades-old policy that says we do not, as a matter of principle, provide weapons into areas of tensions, because we don't want our weapons to be used in areas of conflict where people are being killed.

ID: To sum up : the solution in the Donbas can only be political based on political will. So, all that we are talking about is political will to end the conflict.

IU: We see political confrontation in the world over the past month, for example, in Syria, and the Salisbury poisoning case. How do these situations influence the conflict in Donbas?

ER: In practical terms, these things often cannot be cleanly separated from each other. On the other handI don't see that there is any real evidence of influence from the Syria issue or the Salisbury attack on the work that is going on in the Normandy format. It’s not like things haven broken down in the Normandy format because of this.

ID: The atmosphere is clearly not the best with Russia. It's not a secret. But we are continuing to talk with them, because we think this is important both for the Syrian war and for the Ukrainian war, but this is dealt with separately. The dialogue is difficult and complicated but we have it and we have it on both issues and on all necessary issues.

IU: In your opinion, regarding the situation in Zakarpattya is OSCE presence necessary there?

ID: There is the mandate of the OSCE's Special Monitoring Mission (SMM) that is for all Ukraine. So, the SMM is present in Zakarpattya already. So, basically, there is no issue. There is a mandate, including Zakarpattya.

IU: How do you see the process of solving problems with ethnic minorities in Zakarpattya? Is the EU or your countries helping Ukraine solve these problems?

ER: I think this is a matter of Ukrainian legislation, which has caused a diplomatic difficulty between Ukraine and Hungary. And it is up to Ukraine to make its legislation. There has been an opinion by the Venice Commission and Ukraine has said that it will implement the points made in the Venice Commission report. I think it is useful to 'de-dramatize' this matter a little bit. And I am not sure that if now there were a diplomatic initiative by France or Germany to mediate with Hungary, that would contribute to “de-dramatization”. There are other ways to take control of this matter than going through us.

IU: How will this situation with the head of Ukraine's Special Anti-corruption Prosecutor's Office (SAPO) influence the fight against corruption?

ID: I would say that it obviously is not helping the general fight against corruption. The institutions which have been created within the past several years are extremely important. That was one of the main requests of protesters of the Maidan in 2013 – to change things as regards corruption in the country. So, those institutions are extremely important. It's obviously not good when they fight against each other, we look at that with concern, but what we need the most is to support those institutions which are fighting against corruption.

IU: Did anticorruption bodies live up to expectations of international partners?

ER: Yes, I think basically yes. You have to consider they had to be established from scratch. And they have done important work. Also, one has to bear in mind that the institutional architecture of these specialized anti-corruption bodies is not complete because the anti-corruption court is still not in place. Once there is an anti-corruption court, one can really hope that the effectiveness of all institutions together will increase substantially. That is why we, the international community, insist so much that the anti-corruption court should be voted into law, and should be voted into law in a form that is in accordance with the recommendations of the Venice Commission.

IU: Some people are saying that Ukraine now has more anti-corruption structures than it needs. That's why they start fighting with each other. Maybe it's more useful to have a clear simple anti-corruption structure? 

ID: We also hear people saying that such structures don't exist in western countries. This is partly true and partly false. The issue is that Ukraine is in a very specific situation. You know better than me, and it is Ukrainians talking about corruption in all levels of society. So, one cannot compare situations. Ukraine is unfortunately in this specific situation that requests very specific means. This is again an issue of political will : those agencies could reinforce one another and organize a good fight against corruption. I would also like to support what my colleague said about the anti-corruption court. One point that is true is that you can have all the agencies fighting against corruption, but if the justice system itself is not doing its job then it's all for nothing. This is why all those efforts in the fight against corruption, they have to get somewhere. They have to get to court, so justice will be served.

ER: This whole anti-corruption structure is like a pipeline. You enter the pipeline with an investigation, then comes prosecution and finally the court. If the last bit of the pipeline has lots of holes, then the oil spills everywhere.

ID: This is an extremely painful question, I always think of those young people at Maidan, the Heavenly Hundred, who died basically for that. Let's not forget those people who died for a new Ukraine, including in this respect. This is the most important thing for the Ukrainian population, but also for us as donors, for Germany, France, the G7. We are supporting this country very much, very widely. It's really important to see results in this area.

ER: Anti-corruption is obviously an issue we can speak about for hours, but one observation I want to add is that corruption in Ukraine is not only about people taking and receiving bribes. It is about highly placed people in business and politics who use the institutional system to manipulate the system for their own personal benefit. There are many cases in which this does not take the form of bribing. One has to avoid a culture of impunity, because this culture of impunity has already caused the widespread cynicism that exists in this country on these issues. Therefore, one needs to have untainted new institutions that deal with this particular aspect of Ukraine’s development. That is our conviction.

IU: You are speaking about the separation of politics and business, aren’t you?

ID: In French, we say 'conflict of interests.' I think you have the same in Germany. It does not mean a politician cannot have a business. But using one's political weight in business should  not be possible. This is what is at stake and can sometimes be problematic in Ukraine.

ER: Or another way of answering your question, is yes, also in our countries there is an influence business takes on politics and vice versa, but there are limits to which this is acceptable. Unfortunately, over the decades, there have been no limits in this regard in Ukraine.

IU: Do you consider that after the presidential elections we may see downturn in the reforms?

ID: There is always risk. Politics is always about risk. The question is if this risk will become a reality. Basically, your question is about the point of no return, something we all have been asking ourselves for the past years. Have we reached the point of no return? Unfortunately, not yet.

ER: Ukraine is like a steam train that is chugging up a hill. It got a big push on the Maidan in 2014 and it is going up the hill and the question is whether it will go over the top of the hill and start running on its own, through new institutions for instance, or whether it will stop before it reaches the top and begin rolling back slowly. There are people putting coal into the train's engine, but on the other hand there are people trying to put obstacles on the tracks ahead. Regarding the elections, we have to wait for the results of the elections and we are not in a position to speculate about that. We will have to wait and see and make the best of the outcome.

IU: The problem is now that many people are not satisfied by results of reforms. Living standards are lower than they were before. What can we do to solve this problem?

ID: I would say two things. Firstly, I totally understand and agree. It's the same in any country, in our country reforms also take time to become visible and tangible for the population. We knew it from the beginning. It's necessary for the population to see the results. Secondly, the Ukrainian population is very intelligent. They know. They understand. They are very political. They know what we are talking about. They see that Ukraine has not reached the point of no return yet. They are afraid. They don't see the results in their everyday lives, and they know the situation can become worse. This is why those last reforms to be made, especially the anti-corruption court, are so important… to show that, yes, now we are really getting there.

ER: And a third point: One has to simply say that the financial losses every person here in Ukraine has made, except for a very few, are due, on the one hand, to the conflict with Russia when they closed down trade with Ukraine and the economy went steeply downhill, and secondly, they are due to earlier mistakes made by Ukrainian leaders. Remember, about 10 years ago, when everyone had foreign currency loans and then lost a lot of money on that. Very basic mistakes were made by the political leadership of the country at the time, which are still having their effects today. Now we are in a situation where people have to understand and do understand that one has to go through a difficult phase in order to have better future. It's like walking across a river. You have to walk to the other bank of the river without stopping in the middle. Those who are offering simple solutions in this “walking across the river” phase are not doing a service to the future of the country.

IU: Is it possible that European companies will participate in governing Ukrainian natural gas transmission system?

ID: In principle, everything is possible. What will make them go or not go will be confidence in Ukrainian institutions, confidence in the business climate, confidence in any privatization offered, transparency and the understanding of what is on the table. There are many parameters to be checked. This is about any privatization. In the gas sector, a lot has been achieved with the reform of Naftogaz. This was one of the main positive steps of Ukraine over the past years. On any privatization, we cannot speak on behalf of our companies. It is up to them to decide. Concerning French companies, what I hear all the time is for them to invest a lot they need visibility, transparency and a business climate that is positive.

ER: Specifically, on the gas transmission system, we do believe that the participation and investment of foreign companies could play a big, positive role in order to make the gas transmission system more competitive. We are entering a phase where it is likely that there will be be more competition for the Ukrainian gas transmission system, and so it needs initiatives to make it more viable and cost effective. International investment and participation in the management can play a major role. Also the European Commission is making proposals in this direction.

IU: Do you see any win-win situations for Ukraine's economy in the gas transit area, taking into account the Nord Stream-2 project?

ER: Under the assumption that Nord Stream 2 will be completed, a practical goal to pursue is to make sure that the effects Nord Stream 2 might have for Ukraine are not those which are feared by those who don’t want Nord Stream 2 to be built. The objection in particular Ukraine has against Nord Stream 2 is the fear that it will make the transit through Ukraine superfluous. If we can avoid this consequence, it makes the future for Ukraine look much better. This is where we are trying to go. The investment of foreign firms into the Ukrainian gas transit system is part of this. But, as Chancellor Merkel has said, we also need clarity from Russia that they will keep using the Ukrainian gas transit system. The discussion about this is, as you can imagine, just going on. President Poroshenko visited Berlin on April 10. Chancellor Merkel told Poroshenko about talks she had with Russian President Vladimir Putin about this. So, we will have to see what follows, what reaction we get from Russia. This is in progress right now.

IU: Isn't the problem the lack of trust between Europe and Russia?

ER: You are right to point out the lack of trust. This will have to be taken into account when one discusses with Russia. The term Chancellor Merkel used in her statement recently is 'clarity.' There need to be assurances one can rely on. Which form this would take, we will have to see.

IU: What do you think about the possibility of U.S. sanctions in case of Nord Stream 2?

ER: I think what we are speaking about is the possibility of sanctions against firms participating in Nord Stream 2 not countries, because it is firms that are participating in Nord Stream 2, not countries. Germany as a country is not participating in Nord Stream 2 - that is a common misunderstanding. It is firms from various European countries which are financing Nord Stream 2 to a certain extent: Two German companies, a French company, a British-Dutch company, that's Shell, and an Austrian company.

It would, of course, be very unusual among friends and allies, if there were sanctions imposed by the United States against companies which do business outside the United States and which are seated in allied countries, like France or Germany Until proven otherwise, I would not assume that this opportunity that legislation in the United States offers will be taken by the U.S. administration. I remain confident that this will ultimately not happen and we will arrive at a solution that respects the legitimate interests of Ukraine in continued gas transit and therefore maybe also makes the discussion a bit more rational than it has been in the past.

IU: It was announced that German and French foreign ministers will visit Ukraine ...

ID:  My Minister  announced it when he came on March 22-23, 2018. He said he would come back with his German counterpart. We don't have a date. Our capitals are talking with each other. But they want to come together.

ER: This intention does not exclude that my new Minister comes also to Ukraine on his own. He is visiting various capitals, the most important ones, at the beginning of his tenure and that is why it is also understood that he will also want to come to Kyiv. That doesn't exclude the possibility of a joint visit as well. 

IU: Will German and French foreign ministers visit Donbas?

ER: Visiting Donbas is considered of great importance. Therefore, if you think back to previous visits, it has always been part of the program.

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