2:50 pm - Wednesday November 4, 2015

Germany Renews Diplomatic Effort to Ease Ukraine Crisis

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BERLIN — Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier of Germany arrived Tuesday in Kiev on Berlin’s latest diplomatic effort to defuse the crisis that has seized the eastern region of Ukraine after Russia’s annexation of Crimea in March.

The visit came as the battle lines seemed to harden between the interim authorities in Kiev and separatists in the eastern regions of Donetsk and Luhansk who held contentious referendums on Sunday and claimed the ballots showed overwhelming support for secession. Both sides are backed by armed forces locked in an uneasy standoff that has led to clashes and bloodshed.

Russia, the key power broker in the region, stopped short of outright recognition of the drive for secession, using the results to press proposals for a negotiated autonomy for those provinces.

In a statement on Monday, the Kremlin said only that it “respects the will of the population of the Donetsk and Luhansk regions,” and that the crisis should be resolved through dialogue.

Mr. Steinmeier met the acting prime minister of Ukraine, Arseniy P. Yatsenyuk, in Kiev and had plans to travel on to Odessa on the Black Sea, where a fire killed some 40 people earlier this month, German diplomats said.“We support your efforts to launch a national dialogue, under Ukrainian ownership, here in your country, through round tables, at the central level and in the regions,” Mr. Steinmeier told a joint news conference with Mr. Yatsenyuk, Reuters reported.

The trip was Mr. Steinmeier’s third to the country since February, when he and his French and Polish counterparts brokered an accord between demonstrators and President Viktor F. Yanukovych that fell apart when Mr. Yanukovych was ousted and fled the country for southern Russia.

Germany has repeatedly pushed for a diplomatic solution in Ukraine while insisting that it would support tougher sanctions if Russia either invades or obstructs a scheduled presidential vote on May 25. Above all, German politicians have made clear, they seek an elected figure to deal with in Kiev.

Mr. Steinmeier is also promoting a proposal to get the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, a 57-nation group that includes Europe and the United States as well as Ukraine and Russia, involved in disarming separatists, promoting dialogue and overseeing a free and fair election.

President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has assured his support, although Russia has also pledged to respect the referendums in eastern Ukraine that were condemned as illegal by the authorities in Kiev and by the West.

Berlin has asked the veteran German diplomat Wolfgang Ischinger, a former ambassador to the United States who now runs an annual security conference held in Munich each February, to coordinate a series of “round tables” intended to bring together all sections of Ukrainian society under the O.S.C.E. proposal.

The terminology being used harks back to 1989, when Poland’s Communist rulers met representatives of the trade union Solidarity, and to the time when the Communists who ruled East Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel grew up, met dissidents. But German media questioned whether there is in Ukraine today even that minimum of national consensus that existed in Soviet bloc countries then.

“For such talks to be successful, minimal consensus is required,” noted Daniel Brössler in the Süddeutsche Zeitung. “All sides must consider a compromise at least conceivable. And that’s the question: Who should, or could, conclude what kind of compromise?”

Europeans favor the O.S.C.E. as the best vehicle for negotiations since it includes all the parties involved in the crisis, and happens currently to be chaired by neutral Switzerland. In addition, the organization has mandates to do what Mr. Steinmeier and others advocate – to disarm, foster dialogue and observe elections.

Russia has often viewed the group favorably, in part because it grew out of an accord in 1975 in a process which the Soviets felt put them on a par with the West for the first time during the Cold War.

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