Sunday

16th Dec 2018

Merkel: Russia cannot veto EU expansion

  • Merkel spoke alone with Putin for two hours, before inviting Juncker to join them for four more hours of talks (Photo: g20.org)

Germany has warned that Russia might try to spread its “sphere of influence” to the Western Balkans, while seeking new ways to make peace on Ukraine.

“Who would have thought it possible that 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall and the end of the Cold War and the division of the world into two blocs, that such a thing could happen in the middle of Europe: old thinking about spheres of influence, which runs roughshod over international law?” German chancellor Angela Merkel told an audience at the Lowy Institution for International Policy, a think tank in Brisbane, on Sunday (16 November).

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Such an approach, she said, puts the “entire European peace order into question”.

She warned Russian leader Vladimir Putin that the EU will not bow to Moscow the same way that former Eastern Germany used to, while making reference to further EU expansion.

“Otherwise you would have to say: ‘We're too weak. We can't take anyone else on board. We will ask Moscow first if that is possible’. That's how it was for 40 years and I don't want to go back to that”.

"It’s not just about Ukraine. It’s about Moldova, about Georgia – if it continues likes this, we would have to ask about Serbia; we would have to ask about the Western Balkan states,” she added at the Lowy event, according to German news agency DPA.

She noted that if the majority of Ukrainians had wanted to join Russia’s economic bloc - the Eurasian Union - instead of seeking EU integration then the West would not have started making “noise” on the Polish-Ukrainian border.

But she ruled out European military support for Ukraine, saying: “It would lead to military confrontation with Russia, which would certainly not be local”.

“We have to leave no stone unturned to get into talks with Russia on a diplomatic solution to the [Ukraine] conflict”.

Confidential talks

Merkel’s Lowy remarks came after she spoke with Russian leader Vladimir Putin at his hotel for six hours in the margins of Australia’s G20 summit.

They spoke alone - with no aides present - for two hours, before inviting European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker to join them.

Merkel told press the “talks were confidential, of course, so I will not go into details”.

She also told media “the present situation [in Ukraine] is not satisfying … at present the [EU] listing of further persons is on the agenda”.

There was no Juncker comment on the hotel meeting.

Putin’s statement said only the “discussion with Angela Merkel covered Russian-German relations, while the talks with Jean-Claude Juncker focused on relations between Moscow and Brussels”.

He later told press: “It might sound strange to you, but I think there are good hopes for being able to settle the situation”.

“After all, both sides have at least established organisations that can act with greater responsibility to resolve the tasks ahead”.

German foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier also indicated the Merkel-Juncker-Putin talks led to some kind of breakthrough.

“Maybe we should look for new approaches to reduce the tension in the EU's relations with Russia?”, he told German newspaper Die Welt am Sonntag.

Recalling Putin’s comment on “established organisations”, he added that “representatives of the EU and the Eurasian Union could come together for first contacts … a meeting of both organisations on an equal footing could be a contribution to the easing of the relationship”.

He also told press on Monday in Brussels, while arriving at an EU foreign ministers’ meeting, that EU-Eurasian Union talks on trade could be a “starting point” for better Russia ties.

Western leaders echo Merkel

The G20 summit took place amid Nato reports that Russia is pouring fresh troops and armour into Ukraine.

It also comes after Russia-controlled fighters in east Ukraine held elections in two self-declared republics in violation of peace accords.

Referring to Russia, US president Barack Obama told the G20 meeting: “You don’t invade other countries or finance proxies and support them in ways that break up a country”.

But he added that if Russia falls in line with Western demands “then I will be the first to suggest that we roll back the sanctions”.

British PM David Cameron warned Putin that “if he continues to destabilise Ukraine, there will be further sanctions”.

He added: “He [Putin] also knows there is a different path that he could take. He could recognise, as he put it to me last night, that Ukraine is a single political space and recognise that that single political space should be respected … if he takes that path, then we can see sanctions eased”.

French PM Francois Hollande said he is “always ready” to take part in fresh EU-mediated Russia-Ukraine peace talks.

Putin wants ‘federal’ Ukraine

The G20 aside, Putin also set out his view on Ukraine to the German people on Sunday.

The Russian leader told German broadcaster ARD in a lengthy interview that he did nothing wrong by annexing Crimea.

He said the West and the UN created a “clear precedent – Kosovo” for the Crimea referendum on independence and on joining Russia.

“The main point [of Kosovo] was that when making a decision concerning their self-determination, the people living in a certain territory need not ask the opinion of the central authorities of the state where they presently live”.

“What was done in Crimea was not in any way different from what had been done in Kosovo.”

He indicated the solution to the conflict is for Western powers to “influence [their] clients in Kiev” to accept a break-up of Ukraine.

“The people who live on this territory [Ukraine], regardless of the language they speak - Hungarian, Russian, Ukrainian or Polish - must feel that this territory is their homeland,” he said.

“I do not understand the unwillingness of some political forces in Ukraine to even hear about the possibility of federalisation.”

“We’ve been hearing lately that the question at issue should be not federalisation but decentralisation. It is all really a play on words … the people living in these territories must realise that they have rights to something, that they can decide something for themselves”.

EU countries keen to rebuild Russia relations

Forty eight hours after Nato said Russia is pouring troops into Ukraine, EU ministers opted to blacklist some “separatists” while trying to restart talks with Moscow.

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