In his commentary on the decisions of the European Union on the situation in Ukraine, the Russian Foreign Ministry simultaneously expressed deep regret, sincerity, and hope for the future. Russia is disappointed “that the European Union, contrary to its own interests, has succumbed to the blackmail of the U.S. administration” but remains open for “equal, ideology-free dialogue” and hopes “that the EU will its own voice in international affairs.”
At such moments you realise the complex nature of a diplomat’s work and how much patience and determination is required to build relationships, to negotiate and conclude agreements with partners who, whilst having their own interests, are not completely free in their decisions.
On 14 July, following talks between President Vladimir Putin and Chancellor Angela Merkel, the urgent need to “establish direct negotiations between the Ukrainian government and separatists in the form of video conferencing” was announced. That announcement was confirmed by a German government press-secretary at a press conference on 14 July.
On 15 July, after a meeting with Croatian President Ivo Josipovic, Merkel was asked about possible sanctions against Russia. Declining to answer, the Chancellor said the issue would be discussed at the European Council and that it was too early to say what overall decision would be made.
But on the same day, on 15 July, following telephone conversations between the Chancellor and the Presidents of the United States and Ukraine, the Press Secretary of the German Government, Steffen Seibert, said that “Russia has been insufficient in meeting expectations” is not live up to expectations.” That is, that Russia was not exerting necessary pressure on militia representatives to encourage them to negotiate a cease-fire, and that it was ineffective in controlling the border. By way of final argument there was a reminder about the Crimea “the annexation of which daily violates international law.”
The European Council met the following day. At the final conference Merkel spoke to the effect that if the contact group videoconference were to be held tomorrow, she would welcome it, but that too many days had passed, that all the while people were dying, and that the situation had only worsened. And the blame for the fact that all these negotiations take so long, according to the Chancellor, does not lie with the German, French or Ukrainian side.
Obviously, something changed after the 15 July telephone discussions. Whose arguments acted on Merkel – Poroshenko or Barack Obama – is unknown. But if the Russian Foreign Ministry’s comments are to be believed, it was more than likely Obama. Perhaps they discussed the multi-million dollar fines the USA seeks to impose (just as it did in the case of French bank BNP Paribas) against Deutsche Bank and Commerzbank. Perhaps it was something else. But the fact remains – the German position changed dramatically after these telephone discussions.
Berlin is well aware of the mood in Kiev and quite clearly understands that after “taking” Sloviansk the desire to “finish off the enemy” began to prevail over the desire to continue peace talks.
One cannot exclude, however, that the serious setbacks experienced by the Ukrainian army in recent days, necessitated strong pressure on the European Union and Germany in particular. Kiev can now regain the role of “chief peacemaker” without loss of face, and all further steps by Russia towards a peaceful settlement can be presented as forced under pressure of sanctions.
How the peace process will further develop, and whether it will really be “bilateral”, as EU representatives previously insisted it must, is not clear. This is especially due to the fact that at the last European Council, apart from the decision to expand sanctions, it was also decided to cancel the limitations on export licenses imposed on 20 February. Those licenses concerned the supply to Ukraine of “equipment for internal repression”, as well as weapons and military technology. In February, these measures were imposed by the EU in connection with the “deteriorating situation in Ukraine”, which “does not justify repressive actions under any circumstances”, or violence and human rights
This time the EU did not substantiate its step: the decision to abolish restrictions on the export license was modestly placed at the end of the paragraph, devoted entirely to condemning “illegal actions by armed militias” and calls on Russia to stop the flow of weapons across the border.
In conclusion, it is probably apt to quote from a recent column by German journalist Jakob Augstein in “Der Spiegel” on the current spy scandal and German relations with the United States: “Before wishing to bring happiness to others, we must first take responsibility for ourselves. Why should the Russians or the Chinese take us seriously if we don’t do this ourselves? Nothing comes of a complete lack of self-respect in politics”.