Vladimir Putin is a criminal, a warmonger, unscrupulous and ice cold, says Green MEP Werner Schulz, calling on the EU to give the Russian president "political acupuncture" to defuse the situation in Ukraine.
Werner Schulz is a German MEP from the European Greens and vice chair of the Delegation to the EU-Russia Parliamentary Cooperation Committee. He spoke to EurActiv Germany's Ewald König.
Why do you call for immediate visa liberalisation with Ukraine?
I am calling for visa liberalisation for Ukrainians as quickly as possible. After the presidential election the necessary technical requirements could be fulfilled, at the latest by summer. I think it is important to show that a Ukrainian passport is really worth something. Russia is conducting inflationary distribution of Russian passports on Crimea and in eastern Ukraine. Every person with Russian roots, or who was born in the former Soviet Union, can acquire a Russian passport. But it should become clear that a Ukrainian passport is much more attractive because it will allow travel to the EU without a visa.
For residents of eastern Ukraine in particular, it will be interesting to take a look at the West, of which they apparently have a more sceptical view. Then they will be able to better compare and decide which way to orient themselves: in the direction of western Europe, or towards Russia, in the Eurasian Union.
And should there be simultaneous restrictions on the visa regime with the Russians?
Yes. A freeze is already being planned. The negotiations have stopped, and they will not get back on track very quickly. Other measures are overdue in this regard. There is the so-called Magnitsky List, which has not yet been settled. To what extent should travel bans should be imposed on Russian officials, and on other third party individuals involved in the invasion? It would be a possibility. But at this point, Putin has really ruined the prospects of visa liberalisation for his citizens.
How should responsible officials be identified?
That is not so easy. In Belarus, with Lukashenk,o we have already been successful. In that case, there is a list of around 300 officials who are involved in the repression. It is a blatant contradiction: while Putin claims he must protect Russian citizens in Crimea, other Russian citizens in Moscow are beaten and arrested simply because they let peace doves fly in front of the foreign ministry.
What is Putin's nightmare? Does he see everything that is holy to him - even his treasured Eurasian Union - threatened by the crisis in Ukraine?
A year and a half ago, when Putin stood on Ukrainian soil and said, "We are one people", it did not sound to me like the familiar call of East Germans for reunification. It was more like a neo-imperial territorial claim; the phantom pain of Putin, insisting that the breakup of the Soviet Union was the biggest geopolitical catastrophe of the 20th century. Not WWI, not WWII, not the Holocaust, not Stalinist terror, not fascist terror, but the disintegration of the Soviet Union!
Meanwhile, it is the disintegration of a colonial empire. The others had already fallen apart by 1918 after WWI: the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, the German Empire, the French and English colonies. What happened in the nineties was the breakup of the Tsarist Empire, which had been held together by Lenin and Stalin with an iron hand as the Soviet Union.
Putin's attempt at reintegration in the Eurasian Union project will fail if the others see that Putin is ready to make use of all his powers. He does not lure them in. It is not an offer, but pressure and extortion with which he intends to assemble this Eurasian Union.
Should Putin be afraid that the virus from Maidan Square could overflow into Russia?
As a matter of fact, that is Putin's second fear. One must understand about Putin's psyche: Putin was a KGB agent in the '80s and a lieutenant-colonel in Dresden. Between Perestroika and Glasnost, he did not experience the atmosphere of change in the Soviet Union. Instead, he only experienced how a dictatorial system - the dictatorship in the DDR - was overthrown by street protests. He relived what happened in Dresden when the Rose Revolution broke out in Georgia and the Orange Revolution in Ukraine.
So he has a panic-stricken fear of mass demonstrations. He proved this after his reappointment as president one and a half years ago. At that time, he was able to push laws through very quickly with an illegitimate Duma - the election was faked. There were massive protests against that in Moscow. His first internal policy objective was to crush these protests with pressure and repression. Demonstrators from Bolotnaya Square have been sentenced to lengthy prison terms. He fears something like that could spillover. In Moscow there have already been demonstrations under the in the name of the Maidan and shouts of "Maidan!".
Putin is a dictator just like Yanukovich, and fears that he could also be overthrown by mass protests.
How far will he go with his threats, and his confrontation with the West?
Putin is unscrupulous. Putin is ice cold. He is a criminal, if you take a closer look, because he has broken international law. Anyone who does something like that is a criminal. He is a warmonger and does not shy away from anything. He occupied South Ossetia. He is holding Abkhazia under occupation. He is holding Transnistria under occupation. He is keeping the Nagorno-Karabakh conflict boiling. A military presence everywhere.
Putin is someone who does not give up until he realises that he has been defeated. But at that point, his back must already be against the wall. He asserted himself as a tough guy in St. Petersburg's back rooms. People like that do not give up so quickly. One must assume he will go all the way. He is facing a force for peace, a soft power, that is smarter than he is. But he will not be so easily defeated.
There are many, many possibilities that lie outside the use of force. We can give him pinpricks. One hundred pinpricks are a political acupuncture, comparable to an electric shock.
What kind of pinpricks?
For example, stopping all arms cooperation. There are two French Mistral class ships which were ordered by Russia, helicopter carriers valued at €1.2 billion in total. There is a training centre from Germany for 30,000 ground troops, ordered as a result of the Georgia war for landing of ground forces. That should not be supplied by Rheinmetall.
Additionally, no exceptions for the South Stream should be permitted, allowing them to get the OPAL pipeline through the European Commission. The antitrust suit against Gazprom must be expedited because Gazprom is re-emerging in the Ukraine conflict as a gas monopolist, arbitrarily determining gas prices according to its political wishes. Gazprom demands the world's second highest gas price from Ukraine. The antitrust suit has been pending ever since the Baltic states filed complaints about monopolistic conditions. There are a variety of possibilities, which would all be legal. And FIFA should be advised to withdraw the Football World Cup.
So the price of gas is the only thing that he can command?
It would be an act of suicide if he cut off gas supplies for western Europe. After all, a large part of the Russian national budget is dependent on these exports. Russia would not be able to withstand that for very long. If the West were to use its sanctioning potential, Putin would be forced to his knees relatively quickly.
Not to mention, adequate reserves in the West, and a mild winter.....
At the moment we would be able to endure such a situation for quite a long time. Apart from that, it would be advisable anyway to introduce a European 'Energiewende' in the medium-term. For this, Ukraine is a parade ground: Away from Russian natural gas!
Ukraine would be able to replace a large part of Russian gas supplies with biofuel plants. Western Europe has the technology for biofuel, Ukraine has the raw materials, the area for cultivation and the pipeline systems. That would be the respective Marshall Plan. In that respect, Germany could help to a high degree. In this way, Russian natural gas could be replaced in the medium-term by the production of biofuels. They could even become an exporter.
What will the mood be like when we celebrate the 25th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin wall in November? With feelings resurrected from the Cold War?
That transcends the Cold War. It is irredentism when one attempts to free or protect supposedly suppressed minorities abroad. A template of justification for the First and Second World Wars as well as the Balkan War in the 1990s. We are in a dangerous situation.
In the end, Russia will be the big loser. The lack of trust which has taken hold now is enormous. And if retaliatory measures are proposed in the Duma, likefeezing foreign accounts or the assets of foreign companies, no investor will be tempted to invest in Russia any longer. Everyone must be advised, not to do any kind of business with Russia.
I regret that the Russian people will have to suffer because of a despot in the Kremlin playing his power games. Putin is a Cold Warrior who received a KGB education.
What is your assessment of German media reporting on this topic?
Many things are not explained correctly, and a lot of untruths are being circulated. The EU is guilty or complicit regarding the Association Agreement. That is nonsense.
It was Putin, once he was firmly back in the saddle, who crushed domestic powers and the demonstrators on Bolotonaya Square and introduced restrictive regulations. He strongly dedicated himself to foreign policy again and began a trade war with Ukraine. He extorted the country - and ultimately also Yanukovich - into not signing the agreement.
People like former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, this Putin-vassal and claqueur, who said Russia must simply be understood. No! There is no rationalization and no acceptance of such crimes!
Can the crisis situation have the effect of making EU citizens more aware of Europe's values and raising participation in the European elections?
I could imagine something like that. It is about war and peace in Europe, something that has been forgotten.
In that sense, the comparison to 1914 does not apply. We could be in such a situation if it were not for the EU - a prudent power of 28 civilized democratic states, who wield the power of reason rather than rattling sabres, or letting NATO speak instead.
I expect we will experience a rapid increase in applications to join NATO. Maybe it was a mistake in Bucharest in 2008, not to accept Ukraine and Georgia into NATO. Maybe we would have avoided the the war in Ossetia, or even the occupation of Crimea.
It is paradoxical that Putin constantly claims Russia is under threat from NATO. NATO has not conducted a single war of conquest in its history, not to mention the fact that it contributed to a cease fire and peace in the Balkans. NATO is a defence community and a power of peace.
I think the question of war and peace will also be considered in the European elections – that peace is currently under threat. And the benefits of having the EU.