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German foreign minister visits Moscow

18-11-2014 | Commentary
Author: Vasily Fedortsev

Frank-Walter Steinmeier’s November 18 visit to Moscow was primarily a routine visit by an EU representative. Speaking at a joint news conference with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, the German foreign minister spoke not only and not even so much about the crisis in Ukraine, as about the danger of further confrontation in Europe, and the need to search for a constructive solution. In this context, it is quite symbolic that Steinmeier flew to his “two-way” visit – first, to Kiev and then to Moscow – not out of Berlin, but Brussels, where a session of the European Council on Foreign Relations had taken place the day before.

Commenting on the results of the meeting, Federica Mogherini, the EU’s new High Representative for Foreign Affairs, said that the main subject of the discussion was the resumption of the dialogue between Moscow and Kiev, between Kiev and eastern Ukraine and between the EU and Russia. In the latter case, the dialogue was related not only to the Ukraine crisis but also involved a wide range of regional and global issues. It is equally important that the Council meeting also discussed the possibility of direct negotiations between the EU and the Eurasian Economic Union.

From all indications, Steinmeier initiated the discussion of these issues, directly or indirectly. In a November 16 interview with the newspaper Welt am Sonntag, he spoke in favor of a new approach toward Russia, which could help alleviate tensions. It is the minister’s view that the old strategy of political pressure, combined with the willingness to negotiate, cannot achieve this goal. The new approach would be to organize a meeting between EU and Eurasian Economic Union representatives. Steinmeier noted that he has already discussed this idea during his recent visit to Kazakhstan, and Nursultan Nazarbayev endorsed it.

Evidently, this became a central topic at the Moscow negotiations, along with the settlement of the Ukraine crisis. According to German media reports citing sources in the German delegation, during an unscheduled meeting with Vladimir Putin, which lasted about an hour and a half, they discussed "ways of resolving the Ukraine crisis, which could open new prospects for cooperation."

It seems that a balanced assessment of the situation is starting to prevail over certain political interests, and a serious turnaround is starting to emerge in the EU policy. The Moscow negotiations are only the first step in this direction. And although the EU Council meeting also heard skeptical opinions on the possibility of a direct dialogue between the EU and the Eurasian Economic Union, many ministers, according to Steinmeier, supported this idea. Furthermore, the majority of EU countries have spoken out against additional sanctions on Russia, except for the ministers of certain countries that traditionally take a tough stance on Russia.

Nevertheless, since the priority today is a peaceful settlement in eastern Ukraine, Kiev’s position will be of key importance here. Both the EU and Russia currently support the continuation of the Minsk process, but during the course of negotiations with Steinmeier, the Ukrainian leadership blamed its disruption entirely on Russia, also suggesting that the Geneva format is more acceptable.

Kiev’s position is quite clear: It is doing all it can to avoid direct dialogue with representatives of the Donetsk and Luhansk people’s republics, which it has officially recognized as terrorist organizations. However, without such a dialogue, it will be extremely difficult, if not impossible, to set the ball rolling in a full-fledged peace process. Judging by Mogherini’s remarks, this is the understanding not only in Moscow, but also in Brussels.

It is rather difficult to make predictions at this stage. But one thing is clear: The negotiation process should be expected to resume in the next several weeks. Signals coming from the EU give cause for positive expectations, both with regard to the resolution of the Ukraine crisis and the outlook for further cooperation. It is quite possible that the idea of a Europe without dividing lines has not yet completely lost its relevance and still has a chance.

Translated by Ukraina.Ru

Vasily FedortsevFEDORTSEV Vasily Alexandrovich

Head of BRIAC,

Candidate of Political Sciences