Courageous and responsible action is the order of the day
Federal Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s inaugural visit to Moscow on Tuesday was dominated by the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. As difficult and serious as the current situation is, the Federal Chancellor was particularly concerned to get one point across very clearly: “For us Germans – and indeed for all Europeans – it is clear that sustainable security cannot be achieved against Russia, only with Russia.”
He therefore urgently appealed to all parties to take courageous and responsible action so as to jointly avert war in Europe. “This is about political leadership and the responsibility we have towards the countries we govern – it is a matter of securing international peace and cooperation in Europe,” said Scholz.
Concerns with regard to the consolidation of armed forces
The main topics of the Federal Chancellor’s talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin were Russia’s military activities on the Ukrainian border and Russian demands for security guarantees. Afterwards, Scholz said he had expressed his great concern at the unprecedented amassing of forces near the Ukrainian border, which was regarded as a threat by all European partners.
The question was, he said: “What will become of these 100,000 soldiers in the near future, and what activities will they engage in? We cannot see any sound reason for this build-up of troops,” said the Federal Chancellor. For this reason, he appealed to Putin to take urgent steps towards de-escalation right away, “so as to avoid war in Europe.” The Federal Chancellor welcomed the news that individual troops were now apparently going to be withdrawn. This was “a good sign”, he noted, saying he hoped that more would follow.
Talks in the NATO-Russia Council and the OSCE
Together with all partners and allies in the European Union and NATO, Germany is prepared to engage in talks with Russia on very concrete steps to improve mutual security – or preferably joint security. To this end, NATO has already proposed specific consultations in the NATO-Russia Council, and the US is equally willing to take part.
As holders of the OSCE Presidency, Poland has initiated a new dialogue process within this organisation, too. This dialogue can only take place in a spirit of reciprocity and in recognition of all principles and commitments as agreed in the OSCE, including the inviolability of borders in Europe and the sovereignty and territorial integrity of all states – including Ukraine. As far as Germany is concerned, these principles are not negotiable.
Continuing on the path of dialogue
At the same time, Federal Chancellor Scholz urgently appealed to the Russian President to remain in dialogue with the community of western states. While it was true that the positions were very different, said the Federal Chancellor, it was important for both sides to make use of the channels that were available. He said he welcomed the fact that “people are now talking”, adding that it was precisely this dialogue that was important “so that we don’t end up with a dangerous situation in Europe – something we must all avoid”.
For the Federal Government, there is no question that military aggression against Ukraine would have serious political, economic and strategic consequences. “For this reason, we must dedicate all our strength, determination and wisdom to avoiding such an escalation. The search for diplomatic solutions is one of the main reasons I visited Kyiv yesterday and now Moscow,” said the Federal Chancellor.
The Federal Chancellor emphasised that the so-called Normandy format – in which France and Germany act as mediators alongside Russia and Ukraine – was another important forum in which to settle the conflict. He expressly welcomed the fact that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky had promised in Kyiv the previous day that Ukraine would soon be submitting three Ukrainian legislative texts on the following points, provided for under the Minsk agreements: notice of the special status of eastern Ukraine, a constitutional amendment with regard to decentralisation, and the preparation of local elections to the Trilateral Contact Group.
This was a starting point for a peaceful solution to the situation in Ukraine, he said, involving the Donbass region and the Ukrainian government. “This is what we need to build on”, said the Federal Chancellor in an appeal to all parties. He said he had encouraged President Putin to provide his negotiators with a constructive mandate to this effect.
Normandy format and Minsk agreements
There has been an armed conflict in eastern Ukraine since 2014. Under the so-called Normandy format, Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France agreed on a roadmap for resolving the conflict in 2014 and 2015 based on the Minsk agreements.
Bilateral relations are multifaceted
Bilateral issues were also the subject of the talks in Moscow. Germany and Russia are closely intertwined historically and culturally: the Year of Germany in Russia has just come to an end, involving some 1,000 events held in more than 70 cities that addressed a wide range of topics concerning the deep and diverse relations between the two countries. These covered everything from culture and science to the environment, sustainability and diversity.
As Federal Chancellor Scholz stressed: “Our economic relations still have great potential, too.” This applied in particular to key issues of the future such as decarbonisation, renewable energies, hydrogen and digitalisation, he said. “We can only live up to our responsibility for the global issue of climate change if we tackle it together,” said Scholz.
One particularly indispensable pillar of German-Russian relations is inter-societal dialogue, something that has contributed a great deal to understanding and reconciliation between the peoples of the two countries since the Second World War. This is why the talks in Moscow also addressed the Petersburg dialogue – a forum that has been a mainstay of German-Russian understanding for years “and is more important now than ever before”, as the Federal Chancellor emphasised.
Concerns regarding freedom of the press and freedom of expression
Germany is concerned to see how civil society in Russia is becoming increasingly restricted and free media are coming under pressure. The closure of the human rights organisation “Memorial” met with incomprehension in Germany. “This organisation was instrumental in investigating the fate of Soviet forced labourers in Nazi Germany, for example,” said the Federal Chancellor.
Scholz also reiterated his position with regard to the opposition politician Navalny, who is imprisoned in Russia: “A conviction would not be compatible with the principles of the rule of law,” he said, adding that this was a view he had expressed on many occasions.
In the course of the talks, the Federal Chancellor also said he expected Deutsche Welle to be able to continue to pursue its journalistic activities in Russia.