By Elisabeth Hellenbroich
Under the motto: “Roads to peace- civil dialogue on the background of Minsk II”, a conference with representatives from Russia, Ukraine, Slovakia and Germany took place in the Slovak town of Košice three weeks ago (6/7th of March). The approximately 40 participants, including political representatives, civil rights activists, scientists as well as cultural and religious leaders, discussed about different civil society initiatives that could contribute to the success of the peace process which was initiated in Minsk on 12th of February. Under the sponsorship of Robert Fico, Prime Minister of the Slovak Republic, the conference had been organized by the German-Russian Forum and the German- Ukrainian Forum.
The very important impulse given by this conference, which was hardly mentioned by the German and foreign press, deserves much more attention. According to the German- Russian Forum the conference issued a joint appeal under the title “Roads to Peace” which called for the continuation of the peace dialogue between the conflict parties in eastern Ukraine, the basis of which is the peace dialogue initiated by the Minsk II agreement, 12th February 2015.
According to the chairman of the German -Russian Forum Matthias Platzeck the conference was very daring and during the conference every word was carefully chosen. “But being conscious of our responsibility in respect to future generations, the participants unanimously agreed to fill Minsk II with new life.” The coordinator of the German- Ukrainian Forum Professor Rainer Lindner spoke about an “important signal” that emanated from Košice underlining that the process of reconciliation needs to be also supported by the civil layers of society.
In their memorandum “Roads to Peace” the participants made reference to the centuries old “common historical space” between Russia and Ukraine .They pointed out that the current Russian-Ukrainian “conflict of interest” has led now to a new military conflict in Europe, hence the need to respect to the principles of Minks II.
“The negotiations of Minsk from February 12, 2015 (Minsk II) have led to a ceasefire which must be stabilized now and must lead to a lasting peace. Among the victims of military confrontation there is mainly the civilian population of Ukraine, the relatives of thousands of deaths, the tens of thousands of injured people as well as millions of refugees. The reconstruction of towns and villages in the combat zones will take years and be costly. An economically stable Ukraine must become a central concern.”
The Peace memorandum which is a call by the civil societies in the Ukraine, Russia, Germany and Slovakia calls for the following measures to be implemented:
- Complete the cessation of all hostilities and implement the agreements of Minsk;
- Refrain in politics, society, media and social networks from an aggressive rhetoric;
- Support the work of the OSCE, so that they can put their tasks into practice;
- Grant safe conditions for the realization of the urgently needed humanitarian aid.
The memorandum stated further:
“We agree :1. to continue the process begun in Košice in other conferences and projects with the participation of representatives from civil society, so that other problems such as the issues of refugees, humanitarian assistance and reconstruction can be acted upon.
- The Russian-Ukrainian citizens’ meetings should be conducted as part of a dialogue between the communities, for example in the form of conferences between cities and their city partnerships and meetings of experts.
- to support the proposal for paving the way toward peace dialogue with the participation and mediation of religious organizations, arts and cultural sector representatives.”
The “Cold War and the present European situation ”
Such a civil dialogue in Košice which for the first time could bring together Russian and Ukrainian civil society representatives in a civilized dialogue, is indeed an important signal on the road to peace. On this strategic background we should look at some statements which were recently made by the former adviser of German Chancellor Helmut Kohl, Dr. Horst Teltschik, as well as an interview which was conducted by the German Weekly Magazine “Der Spiegel” end of March with former SPD Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder. During the last year the reasonable voice of these two politicians like the opinion of many other experienced strategists, who are defenders of a peaceful dialogue with Russia, have been blocked out by the German main stream media and often slandered.
On March 19th the newly established research project “Cold War” –a joint project of the Hamburg Institute for Social Research, the Institute for Contemporary History in Munich Berlin, the German Foundation for the Study of the SED dictatorship and the Humboldt University- was opened in Berlin. The keynote was given by security expert and former director of the Munich Security Conference, Dr Horst Teltschik. “The Cold War and the European reality” was the subject of his speech. In December last year Teltschik had published an appeal in the German Weekly “Die Zeit” under the title “Again war in Europe? Not in Our Name”. The appeal which was signed by 60 prominent German representatives from politics, economy, churches, science and culture urgently called for a peace dialogue with Russia.
In his speech in Berlin, Professor Teltschik pleaded for a security policy based on Detente. Making reference to the recent peace initiatives by Chancellor Merkel and Foreign Minister Steinmeier in Minsk, Teltschik stressed that there “can be no security in Europe without Russia.” What was necessary instead was that Russia’s security needs be taken seriously. This is all the more necessary on the background of what happened in the last 25 years, where the West didn’t always take these interests seriously, Teltschik said. This included the “ignoring” of certain treaties by the West. Statements made by President Obama, who described Russia as a “regional power”, were according to Teltschik “devastating” and “verbally degrading”. Skeptical was also his view concerning the state of mind of the American Society. Teltschik stated that from his viewpoint the “US was a problem today” and that “the fight in the US between the Democrats and Republicans is so intense, that the country could hardly pursue a reasonable policy.”
Gerhard Schroeder: We have interest in a strong Russia
In an interview with the Weekly “Der Spiegel” (14/2015), former Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder identified the “serious errors” which were made in the Ukraine conflict on all sides. As result of this, he stated, there “have been a spiral of threats, sanctions and the use of violence. From this spiral we must now come out again.”
With regard to Russia, Schroeder like Teltschik emphasized, that „we have an interest in ensuring that there is no decaying, but a strong Russia (…) just as much as Europe including Germany, needs Russia, Russia needs Europe.” He stated that the Security interest of Russia must be taken seriously. This is all the more true in light of NATO’s Eastward drive:
“If in a country as big as Russia, you get near to Russia with an Alliance that dates back to the cold war, you shouldn’t wonder about the hypersensitive reactions coming from Russia (…) Don’t forget that with the end of the Soviet Union the Warsaw Pact ceased to exist, while NATO not only persisted, but expanded considerably eastwards.”
According to Schroeder all the troubles began with the presidency of George W. Bush: “I remember the debate over Georgia’s desire to become member of o NATO. The second aspect was the unilateral withdrawal by Washington from the ABM treaty – a disarmament treaty and in this context the plans for deploying US missile defense systems in Eastern Europe.”
Schroeder underlined that the Europeans themselves hardly believed at the time that these “missile defense systems” were meant as a protective shield against potential Iranian threats.
In response to the question whether there is a split between the US and Europe, Schroeder stated that “there is no common interest of the West. The Americans see in their dealing with Russia a global problem. They don’t want another competitor next to China. The Europeans however know from their own historical experience that things always went well when there was a settlement with Russia, and that things became difficult when an there wasn’t an agreement with Russia. So for us it’s a European problem.”
Reflecting about the mistakes which were made in the Ukrainian conflict, Schroeder pointed to the big mistake made by the Europeans and the federal government, which “allowed the EU Commission President Barroso to negotiate only with Ukraine, but not with Russia about the EU economic association, although it was known that Ukraine is a culturally divided country: While in the East and South it is more Russian oriented, it is more European oriented in the West. The inclusion of Russia would have been economically viable.”
Missing that opportunity turned out to be very fateful. From Schroeder’s viewpoint the question what would happen to Ukraine which is both actually associated with the EU and at the same time member of the Eurasian Economic Union, could have been discussed already then.