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Editorial: No Special Path for Germany in Ukraine Crisis

A woman takes pictures inside the burned out trade union building, in Odessa, Ukraine, where at least 40 people died last Friday. Zoom
AP/dpa

A woman takes pictures inside the burned out trade union building, in Odessa, Ukraine, where at least 40 people died last Friday.

To contain the forces of madness in Ukraine, the West must prepare to work together with Russian President Vladimir Putin. If he doesn't comply and continues to lie, then tough sanctions must follow. For Germany, there can be no special path.

It's time to put an end to the subterfuge and insanity. It is time for a judicious political process and for cooperation in the Ukraine crisis.

The scenes of the past week couldn't have been more contradictory. A civil war is raging in eastern Ukraine, yet Gerhard Schröder met with Vladimir Putin for a night out to celebrate the former German chancellor's 70th birthday. At the same time, German soldiers, part of the OSCE monitoring mission in Ukraine, were being held hostage by a self-appointed "people's governor." Schröder's gesture struck many as obscene and it is certainly not the correct way to deal with a man who is threatening peace in Europe. Dialogue, yes. But that kind of open embrace is unacceptable.

But what should such a dialogue focus on? And which steps would be the most reasonable to take? To embark on such a path, Germany and the West must adopt a unified posture, a common goal and a roadmap for achieving it.

There are two fundamental aspects that must define Germany's position in the Ukraine crisis: There should be no war and no equidistance, but rather a clear affiliation with the Western alliance.

Other Options

On the issue of Ukraine, an asymmetrical resolve is currently prevailing. Vladimir Putin is prepared to deploy his military, but the West, correctly, is not. German and other NATO soldiers shouldn't be asked to die for Ukraine. That is an advantage for Putin; he knows that no one will try to stop him militarily. The West must accept this, for it also has other options at its disposal.

Many Germans have indulged Russia thus far. It seemed as though a Cold War desire for equidistance had returned in recent weeks, the yearning for a neutral position between the West and the East. With all due respect for Russia and its interests, however, Germany belongs to the West, to the other democracies -- even if the positions of the United States are sometimes difficult for Germans to swallow. Our security and sense of political and cultural belonging comes exclusively through our ties with our partners in NATO and the European Union. A German Sonderweg, or special path, would be tantamount to surrendering to Russia, just as Schröder surrendered himself and now appears to be Putin's puppet.

In terms of the goal in Ukraine: Peace must trump unity and unity must be decided by the majority in each region. It would be good if the Ukrainians remained one cohesive country because that would offer them the best prospects for prosperity. But if the people in the eastern part of the country determine they absolutely want to declare their independence or become part of Russia, they should also be given the possibility to do so. If a majority determines it wants to remain part of Ukraine, then everything possible must be done to ensure that the country remains intact. The people shouldn't be forced into a hurried vote under pressure as happened in Crimea. It should be done in an orderly manner.

The path to that end begins with trust. The West loses nothing by making it clear that Ukraine will not become a member of NATO or the EU in the foreseeable future. Such a pledge would assuage Russian fears of the two alliances moving even closer to Russian territory and would stabilize their sense of security.

One More Chance

It is imperative that the forces driving the current madness be contained. The first step must be a cease-fire observed and enforced by both sides. Both the ultra-nationalist militias in western Ukraine and the separatists in the east must be disarmed and reined in. This is already called for in the Geneva agreement and needs finally to be fulfilled. The second step is a referendum in eastern Ukraine under the oversight by the international community. If separatism prevails, then the West will have to live with it. If unity prevails, then Russia must accept it.

There are two dates right now that are disrupting that path. Ukrainians in the eastern part of the country want to vote on secession on May 11. The government in Kiev wants to hold elections across the entire country on May 25. It is too early for either of these votes to take place. Ukraine needs time and repose before balloting can begin; intimidated voters cannot make their decision freely. An additional three months would be appropriate. Disarmament and peace must come first, then the referendum and then elections.

Putin needs to know that the West is prepared to give him one more chance -- this one. Thus far, he has feinted, lied, provoked and violated international law. The West, too, has made mistakes. But it is now time to start with a clean slate. It is time for the spirit of cooperation to prevail on both sides -- and the will for peace.

If Putin doesn't fulfill his obligations, if he torpedoes the process, tough economic sanctions must follow immediately. They will be painful to Russia, but also to Germany and its partners. Complaints, though, should be ignored. Political order on the Continent and the containment of an aggressor must take precedence over gross national product.

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1. optional
peskyvera 05/05/2014
Who is the idiot writing this article? Stop kissing the Yankee ass! Had Germany and the EU not supported the US/NATO in toppling the government in Kiev, supporting installing a neo-Nazi group, none of this would be happening. God, you Germans/Europeans are not only blind, also dumb and deaf. You are guilty by association and your hands are just as blood-covered as those of Washington.
2. A rational solution
forsyte_irene 05/05/2014
I agree with the proposed solution for the Ukrainian situation. It is rational and appears to be fair. I do not agree with painting the West as a knight in shining armor and Putin/Russia as a conniving devil yet again. It is pretty clear by now - there are no knights in shining armor in this conflict. It is also clear who the victims are - regular people in all the countries directly or indirectly involved, who are being manipulated by the mainstream media into mutual distrust. My heart goes out to the people of Ukraine who are mere pawns in the political games of others. Proposed solution does make sense: “In terms of the goal in Ukraine: Peace must trump unity and unity must be decided by the majority in each region. It would be good if the Ukrainians remained one cohesive country because that would offer them the best prospects for prosperity. But if the people in the eastern part of the country determine they absolutely want to declare their independence or become part of Russia, they should also be given the possibility to do so. If a majority determines it wants to remain part of Ukraine, then everything possible must be done to ensure that the country remains intact. The people shouldn't be forced into a hurried vote under pressure as happened in Crimea. It should be done in an orderly manner. The path to that end begins with trust. The West loses nothing by making it clear that Ukraine will not become a member of NATO or the EU in the foreseeable future. Such a pledge would assuage Russian fears of the two alliances moving even closer to Russian territory and would stabilize their sense of security.”
3. editorial
joe 05/05/2014
At least this time the bias is correctly titled an editorial. For that I applaud you. However, it describes the situation from the position that Vladimir Putin is somehow responsible for the conflict that arose when Western Europe continued its march eastward in what amounts to an invasion by stealth/cash. You simply cannot abide the idea that you have used up all of your resources and those of your subjugated countries and now (like a former German leader) you want the vast wealth of Russia. Vladimir stands in your way. It irks you. It defies your plans. So you instigate trouble for Russia, hoping to open the gates to their wealth so you can plunder it. This is too transparent to ignore. Putin is not the problem. Look within your own countries for what ails Ukraine today. If they fall for this, they deserve western economic tyranny.
4. Pri$e.
Bugs Bunny 05/05/2014
Wonder, how much Merkel got paid for selling own country?
5.
sinisav 05/05/2014
Editor! If you want any Sonderweg, the very first step should be recognition that Germany has (passively or actively, consciously or unconsciously) been engaged in coupe d’etat that took the place in Kiev in January. Your unconditional support of “democratic movement” turned to be a failure and catastrophe. You do understand that not only democrats, but many open pro-fascist and ultra-nationalist persons came to power in Kiev. However, you avoid confessing obvious. Blaming Russia and treating Putin is fully false and very stupid approach. “Thus far, he has feinted, lied, provoked and violated international law” – Come on! I do not think you are talking seriously. If you insist on your Sonderweg, German dissimulation of American aggressive and deep engagement and participation in Ukrainian scenario is absolutely wrong and unacceptable. You can close your eyes at Nuland’s “Fuck the EU” statement as well as “her appointment” of new Ukrainian government. But, not the rest of the world! By the way, don’t you thing that sending German solders (!!!) under coverage of OSCE observers was very stupid? Obviously, not as you criticized Schröder's gesture. Putin is threatening peace in Europe? – Come on, editor. Time of Joseph Goebels has passed away and do not use such kind of propaganda. Can’t you really see that USA and Germany are desolated in you aggressiveness? Of course, UK, Canada and Poland should be excluded as USA puppets and blind followers. Although there are few points that are hard not to accept.
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