Heiko Maas: Berlin wants to hold Normandy format meeting at political level as soon as possible
German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov will hold negotiations on the sidelines of the Petersburg Dialogue forum in Germany on Thursday. Maas has given an interview to Interfax ahead of the forum, in which he speaks about prospects of settling the conflict in Ukraine, Germany‘s preparations for ensuring security in the absence of the INF Treaty and attempts to save the Iranian nuclear deal.Question: Mr. Minister, how have contacts with Ukraine under the new president, Volodymyr Zelensky, have been developing? How have the Normandy Format negotiations been going? Are there signs of progress? President Zelensky has recently proposed President Putin to meet. Zelensky believe that these talks should involve U.S. President Donald Trump, British Prime Minister Theresa May, French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Answer: We have witnessed no movement in eastern Ukraine for quite a long time. Now the disengagement of forces near Stanytsia Luhanska has sent a positive message. We welcome the fact that in response to an impetus from Ukraine, the sides reached this agreement. This success proves that progress in eastern Ukraine is possible. Last week‘s meeting of the political advisors in the Normandy format was also quite productive. Now, resting on this, we should move forward. I will tell Sergei Lavrov that we are expecting a constructive contribution from the Russian side. It also includes, among other moves, the release of the Ukrainian sailors. It is important that direct talks on resolving this conflict should be held again soon. The suffering of hundreds of thousands of civilians affected by the consequences of the continuing armed conflict must end at last. Therefore, we are seeking to hold a Normandy format meeting at the political level as soon as possible. We of course will closely coordinate this issue with our American and European partners.
Q.: European sanctions against Moscow have been extended, political cooperation between Russia and Germany deals only with certain formats of settlement. And what is now happening in the sphere of bilateral youth and cultural exchanges and civil society? Is there any cooperation? How active is it?
A.: Our opinions on some points, for instance on Russia‘s role in Syria, differ drastically. A great deal of trust in relations with Russia has been lost because of the annexation of Crimea in violation of international law and destabilization in the east of Ukraine. But it is also clear that we need a dialogue with Moscow in order to resolve international problems. This is the reason why the work of the German-Russian high-level working group on security policy has been initiated once again. As regards people-to-people contacts, they are highly important and should not be affected by political tensions. That‘s why sincere discussions as part of the Petersburg Dialogue are important. That‘s why we support German-Russian relations, implementing such a large number of projects: the year of scientific and educational partnerships, partnership at the municipal level, school exchanges, support for Siege of Leningrad survivors, and other numerous joint memorable events. We are convinced that it is necessary to continue these contacts
Q.: Moscow believes that INSTEX could save the nuclear deal with Iran. What does Berlin think about it?
A.: We are having no illusions that we could compensate for the economic implications of the U.S.‘ withdrawal from the Vienna nuclear agreement. But, together with France and the United Kingdom, we are making it clear all the time that we stand by the JCPOA and intend to further fulfill our obligations under this agreement. INSTEX is an important component of European efforts to preserve the JCPOA. Moreover, we are not the only European participants in the JCPOA. All remaining participation should make effort to preserve the Vienna nuclear agreement. This is hard process, and INSTEX may at the same time become just one of several instruments.
Q.: The Intermediate-range Nuclear Forces Treaty will be terminated soon. There is almost no chance to save it. It is likely that the INF Treaty will no more be valid on August 2, 2019. What does Germany do in this sphere? In your opinion, is there a chance to save the treaty? How will the international security architecture look like without the INF Treaty? What should be done after August 2, 2019?
A.: The ball is now in Moscow‘s court. Russia still has some time left before August 2 to reduce cruise missiles that violate the treaty and provide the opportunity to verify it. But we ought to stay realistic: it is unlikely at present. The termination of the INF Treaty will weaken Russia‘s security as well. Our expectation is that the threat from Russian cruise missiles that violate the INF treaty is going to persist. We are getting prepared for this. One thing is clear: NATO does not want a new arms race with Russia. Arms control is an important element of European security, arms control mechanism that in particular takes into consideration challenged posed by the future is needed. Platforms like the OSCE Structured Dialogue will become even more important after August 2. Making its constructive contribution and honoring treaties is in Russia‘s interests as well.