Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Germany’s Minister for Foreign Affairs, said that even if the efforts to stop the conflict in eastern Ukraine prove successful, finding a political solution would take decades, “or even longer”.
Steinmeier was speaking at a public event in Brussels organised by Carnegie Europe.
“If we are lucky, if we succeed in calming down the military situation, if we manage to bring about a political process, I don’t exaggerate when I say (it) could take years or decades, or even longer, for a political solution to come about,” he said.
Regarding EU relations with Russia, Steinmeier said everything depends on whether it will be “steering or disturbing the political processes, whether we will be able to restore the thrust that has been shattered and bring improvements in the relations with Russia”.
EurActiv asked Steinmeier to comment on reports that the US had decided to supply Ukraine with lethal weapons. According to media reports, both Democratic and Republican legislators have achieved consensus on arming Kyiv.
Steinmeier said that following his recent visit to the US, he would take such reports with a grain of salt.
“I just returned from my visit to the USA on Saturday (14 March), I spent three days in America, I had intense talks on the one hand side with the administration, but also I met with Republicans and Democrats alike. The attitudes are not as those described,” Steinmeier said.
The German diplomat said that Secretary of State John Kerry had noted in their joint press conference that the position of the US government was to continue to monitor the process after the Minsk agreements and see whether there is progress, and that there was no decision on suppling lethal weapons.
Steinmeier was also asked to comment on conflicting reports about the military situation in eastern Ukraine, with the NATO military commander General Philip Breedlove saying that the situation is deteriorating, while the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) states that the cease fire is holding.
The German minister did not criticise NATO, but his answer appeared to suggest that he put more stock in the OSCE findings.
“We are not talking about opinions here, we are talking about facts. We asked twice NATO, the reason being that our personnel on the ground, (the) OSCE, have provided us with rather different figures than the figures we have received from NATO, and this raised the issue how those diverging figures came about. Ten days after the Minsk agreement was signed, we had the impression, and it was confirmed by the OSCE figures, that violent acts have decreased, whereas the figures we received by Breedlove have given reason to believe that violence has increased significantly,” Steinmeier said.
The leaders of Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine gave their support to a deal to end fighting in eastern Ukraine following 17-hour long negotiations in the Belarussian capital Minsk on 12 February.
The four leaders had committed to respect Ukraine's sovereignty and territorial integrity, according to a joint declaration.
Western leaders are closely observing the implementation of the Minsk agreement.
European leaders on 2 March said that they agreed that the OSCE needed a broader role as observers of the ceasefire, and weapons removal.