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06/12/2016

Joschka Fischer: Putin eyes eastern Ukraine

Europe's East

Joschka Fischer: Putin eyes eastern Ukraine

ster of Foreign Affairs Joschka Fischer. March 2014 [boellstiftung/Flickr]

In Eastern Europe, the Caucasus, and Central Asia, the post-Soviet system is currently being overthrown, says Joschka Fischer. EurActiv Germany reports.

Since his first term of office as Russian President, Vladimir Putin has been pursuing the “recovery of world power status for Russia as a strategic goal”, Germany’s ex-foreign minister wrote in a guest article for the Süddeutsche Zeitung.

Fischer, a former minister of foreign affairs, is a veteran member of the Green Party (Bündnis ‘90/Die Grünen). Amid rising apprehension in the EU over further annexation plans from Putin, Fischer claimed Ukraine was at the centre of the Russian President’s strategy to gradually reclaim lost territories.

“Vladimir Putin’s next target is eastern Ukraine – along with persistent destabilisation of entire Ukraine,” Fischer warned.

Understanding for Russia’s approach?

Fischer’s view clearly contradicts those who call for understanding towards Moscow. 

Former German Chancellor Helmut Schmidt recently called Putin’s activities in Crimea “quite understandable”, in an interview with Die Zeit last week.

The sanctions agreed upon by the EU and the US against Russia were “stupid stuff”, said Schmidt. Farther reaching economic sanctions would miss the target, he argued, because they too had a primarily symbolic value “but they affect the West just as they do the Russians”.

Former Chancellor and fellow party member Gerhard Schröder expressed a similar view, sharply criticising the EU’s Ukraine policy at an event hosted by Die Zeit in Hamburg. The EU made a mistake, he said, by pressuring Ukraine to sign an association agreement.

The country is culturally Europe-oriented with a nationalist West, Russian-thinking East, and divided in the South; it was forced to make an “either-or” decision, Schröder said. As a result, Ukraine’s only choice was to give up the connection with Russia.

Schröder added that Putin was interested in consolidating Russia, developing it economically, and “keeping it big and strong – at eye-level with the United States”. As a person who often thinks in historical terms, Putin has a certain “fear of encirclement”, the former chancellor explained.

No tolerance for Putin sympathisers

But Fischer strongly criticised what he called the “Putin-understanders” (“Putin-versteher”) in his guest article.

“The overthrow of the post-Soviet system is taking place before our very eyes in Eastern Europe, the Caucasus and in Central Asia”, explained the former foreign minister. Whoever thinks of accommodating these developments, “like the Putin-understanders in the West, will not contribute to peace but rather to an escalation of the crisis. Softness is interpreted as encouragement in Moscow”.

The EU has to grasp that it will be confronted by opposing interests of other powers in its eastern and southern neighbourhood, Fischer said, adding that in order to preserve its own security interests the EU simply cannot ignore or accept these.

Furthermore the European agreement process must move forward quicker than it has thus far, Fischer said. It turns out that the world – above all the European neighbourhood, Fischer pointed out, “is by no means as peaceful as many Europeans, first and foremost the Germans, so optimistically intended”.

Background

Crimea's Moscow-backed leaders declared a 96% vote in favour of quitting Ukraine and annexation by Russia, in a referendum held on 16 March Western powers said was illegal, and will bring immediate sanctions.

At their 20-21 March summit, EU leaders agreed to broaden the list of Ukrainians and Russians whose assets will be frozen and freedom of movement in the EU restricted, as a response to Russia's annexation of the Crimean peninsula, bringing the number to 33. A so-called "third stage" of sanctions is now also in the pipeline.

Meanwhile, US President Obama announced that the Americans had added 20 new officials to its sanctions list, including Putin's chief of staff, Sergei Ivanov.