Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Germany’s foreign minister, will be on a highly sensitive mission this week. After meeting in Brussels with 27 of his counterparts, he heads to Kiev and Moscow – and into the unknown.
The Social Democratic Party (SPD) politician wants to sound out whether any sort of compromise is possible between the Ukraine and Russia after a year of confrontation. But he will probably have to mediate a raging battle, just like back in February, when Mr. Steinmeier and his French and Polish colleagues stopped an outbreak of civil war in Ukraine’s capital, Kiev.
The sequel is well known. Viktor Yanukovych, the Ukrainian president who sought closer ties with Russia, fled, and Russia annexed Crimea and fueled the secession efforts of pro-Russian separatists by delivering weapons to them in eastern Ukraine.
Vladimir Putin, the president of Russia, had even promised support for all people who identified as Russians. In eastern Ukraine, the guerillas relied on Putin’s promise – while they noticeably intensified their battles against Ukrainian troops. And the voluntary fighting groups of the Ukraine, which are still barely controlled by Kiev, are hitting back with full force. The cease-fire agreement is just a piece of paper.
At the moment, it may be more complicated to tease out reason in Russia than in Kiev.
The daily combat situation is too confused to assign blame yet. But the increasing likelihood of events leading to a new phase of war means a lasting resolution needs to be negotiated.
The first step must be to establish a reliable and lasting gas supply for Ukraine through Russia and an equally reliable water and electricity supply for the Crimean peninsula from Ukraine. Mutual dependence might stop Russia from taking control of the Crimean mainland via eastern Ukraine. At the same time, the Ukrainian population naturally expects battle rather than capitulation from its politicians.
The West can only offer reason: reason in Kiev, to forgo new military escapades. And reason in Moscow, not to gamble away the modernization of its ailing economy through new confrontations with the West. China, its new friend, will not be able to overtake the West’s technology lead quickly. But for now, itr may be easier to reason with Russia rather than Kiev due to nationalistic fervour.
The key to peace clearly lies in the Kremlin and Mr. Putin must be persuaded to use it.
The author is an international correspondent. He can be reached at: email@example.com.