Chancellor Angela Merkel on Saturday said Ukraine’s territorial integrity was an essential aim of German foreign policy and argued that a lack of controls along the country’s long eastern border with Russia stood in the way of ending the separatist uprising there. “An open border, that allows weapons to come in from Russia, won’t do,” she said.
Merkel called for a mission by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe to secure the frontier.
Visiting Kiev in a show of support for its Western-oriented president, Petro Poroshenko, Merkel called on “both sides” in the conflict to agree to a ceasefire. “You cannot achieve peace on your own,” she said. “I hope the talks with Russia will lead to success.”
Poroshenko is due to meet his Russian counterpart, Vladimir Putin, in Belarus’ capital Minsk next week.
Although she leads Europe’s largest economy, Merkel has shied away from playing a major diplomatic role in the Ukrainian crisis which began in February when large street protests in Kiev forced President Viktor Yanukovich to resign after he had unexpectedly pulled out of an association agreement with the European Union.
Germany gets roughly a third of its natural gas from Russia while German exports to the country were worth €36 billion last year. Lobbyists claim up to 300,000 German jobs depend on the trade.
Following the downing of a commercial airliner in the east of Ukraine last month, Germany nevertheless backed sanctions against Russian banks and energy companies. European countries and the United States believe the passenger jet was shot down by pro-Russian rebels with a Russian missile launcher. Russia denies this.
Having tried and failed to persuade its former satellite state Ukraine to join its Eurasian trade union, Russia invaded and annexed its Black Sea peninsula of Crimea in March. The region’s residents, most of whom are of Russian descent, voted overwhelmingly in favor of joining Russia in a referendum.
While the West appears to have largely acquiesced in the Crimea’s annexation, Merkel on Friday insisted the peninsula still belongs to Ukraine. The annexation, the Kyiv Post reported her as saying, “was in violation to [the] territorial integrity of Europe and if we recognize this principle than this may happen all over Europe,”
Western countries fear Russia has similar designs in eastern Ukraine. Although Russia denies supporting the separatists there, who have requested annexation by Russia, Russian artillery and tanks have found their way into the region and Russian nationals occupied key positions in the leadership of the insurrection.
Since Poroshenko, a former businessman and proponent of closer ties with the rest of Europe, assumed office in June, Ukraine’s forces have progressively driven back the rebels — prompting worries in Western capitals that Russia might intervene militarily to prevent the uprising’s collapse.
Hours before Merkel’s visit, Ukrainian troops shelled Donetsk, one of two cities still largely controlled by the rebels.
Last weekend, Ukrainian troops first entered Luhansk, the other remaining rebel stronghold.
A convoy of Russian trucks, that entered Ukraine without permission from Kiev a day earlier, delivered aid to Luhansk on Friday, forcing Ukrainian troops to hold their fire for fear of hitting Russian workers.