km. On 29 November, on the occasion of the current conflict between Russia and Ukraine, the German magazine Cicero asked Frank Elbe, the former German ambassador to Poland and India and head of the planning staff at the German Foreign Office under Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher, for his assessment of the situation.
So Cicero asked: “But is not the Russian approach disproportionately aggressive? To ram a ship and shoot at people is not the way to help de-escalate the situation.”
Frank Elbe replied: “The protection of the Russian border is the task of the coast guard. The Russians had also announced that they would act in the same way. If Ukrainian ships, under the acquiescence [with the approval] of the president, do not abide by the rules, they will trigger the current situation.”
Shortly before in the interview Frank Elbe had stated: “You also have to take a look at the situation of Russia: The American effort to bring Ukraine and Georgia into NATO, the development of a missile defence system, NATO’s approach to the Russian border.
It is logical that this causes fear in Russia. And that Putin cannot simply let these developments happen.”
Thus it is not surprising that after the incident the German and French governments as well as the EU, the NATO Secretary General, the US Secretary of State, the US Ambassador to the UN and many other Western politicians and media want Russia to stand in the dock, pledging their support for the Ukrainian government – it is just another element in the longstanding campaign against Russia. And unfortunately we need to add: The alleged “fear” of an escalation of the conflict between Russia and Ukraine and the call for “de-escalation” are not credible. Otherwise the approach would be a different one, taking the Russian version of the occurrence also into account. This is why the German-French offer to arbitrate in the current Russian-Ukrainian conflict is hardly convincing. Not a lot is “neutral” in German and French government politics.
In an interview with Deutschlandfunk, Alexander Neu, member of the German Bundestag for the party Die Linke, stated on 26 November: “Ukraine’s sovereignty corresponds to the sovereignty of a three-year-old child, depending on his mum. Believe me. Ukraine itself has not much of a say.” Although the German radio journalist reacted touchy on this statement it is an occasion to start thinking. If, as the Russian side is claiming, the Ukrainian marine actions in the Kerch Strait had indeed been a deliberate provocation, the question arises: Who outside Ukraine is interested in such a provocation with all its potential consequences – while officially all measures are taken to prevent an escalation of the conflict?
That the position of the German government is hardly “neutral” regarding the current events was demonstrated by the statement of government spokesman Stefan Seibert on the morning of 26 November in the government press conference. Seibert negated Russian rights on the Crimean, again mentioned an “annexation of the Crimean against international law” and that the German government was also deeming the construction of a bridge to the Russian mainland as a breach of international law, closing: “From the standpoint of the Federal Government there are severe questions, mainly regarding the usage of military force by Russia for which we cannot see a justification on the basis of the facts hitherto known to us.” Thus he sweeps aside the Russian argumentation in passing. It is understandable that the Russian government does not feel encouraged to let the German government “arbitrate”.
Regarding the “annexation of the Crimean against international law”: Continuous repetition of this claim does not make it correct. As of now there is no final international law judgement regarding the accession of the Crimean to the Russian Federation in 2014. Experts in state and international law are assessing the situation differently. And we need to remember that in March 2014, about one month after the coup d’état in Kiev which was also directed against the Ukrainian population tending towards Russia, an overwhelming majority of the inhabitants of the Crimean voted in a secret referendum for an accession of the Crimean to the Russian Federation. In a turnout of about 83%, almost 97% of the voters cast their vote in favour of this accession. The Crimean parliament has filed the application accordingly and the concerned Russian institutions have accepted it. All governments know that Russia is considering the Crimean as Russian territory which is why it is logical that it observes the corresponding rights and obligations. This includes the protection of the borders.
Considering the manner in which over the past 20 years German politics has treated international law also suggests that the rhetoric of an “annexation against international law” is not due to a desire for legality but political interests.
As German citizen I am concerned with the question how we can succeed in bringing more Germans to take a stand for an honest review of the German-Russian history of the past 27 years and for improved German-Russian relations. There many possibilities. From conversations and public statements to concrete steps in rapprochement, for example in German-Russian twinning arrangements of towns (cf. the interview at page 12).
The past days have shown that the campaign against Russia is not over. On the contrary, playing with fire is practised, sometimes more sometimes less intense. It is not sufficient to expect Russia to react in a calm and serene way towards permanent provocations. •
At https://www.atlanticcouncil.org/blogs/ukrainealert/russia-s-provocations-in-the-sea-of-azov-what-should-be-done the US think tank Atlantic Council made the following recommendations in November 2018: “Ukraine should give careful consideration to a special operation that might disrupt the bridge that Moscow built over the Kerch Strait that joins Crimea to Russia. But that’s not all. Ukraine should invite the United States and NATO to send a fleet of armed ships to visit Mariupol, the main city on the Sea of Azov coast and defy Russia to fire on or block NATO from exercising the right to visit Ukraine’s ports. Those ships should be armed and have air cover but be instructed not to fire unless fired upon.”
“Former Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel campaigned for relaxation in the Ukrainian conflict. He told the Tagesspiegel that Germany should ‘not allow itself to be drawn into a war against Russia’. Gabriel criticised Ukraine’s demands for German warships against Russia and the proposal to close international ports for Russian ships from the Crimean region. Gabriel called this a ‘new edition of the gunboat diplomacy’.”
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