Merkel warns Russia of 'massive' damage over Ukraine

13th March 2014, Comments 0 comments

German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned Russia Thursday of "massive" long-term damage to its interests if it continued to violate international law with its seizure of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula.

In a speech to parliament looking ahead to a European Union summit next week in which the 28-member bloc could impose new sanctions against Moscow, Merkel said Russia was using the "failed" expansionist tactics of the 19th and 20th centuries.

"If Russia continues its course of the last weeks, it would not only be a catastrophe for Ukraine," she told the chamber, where the Ukrainian ambassador to Germany was also a guest.

"We would not only see it, also as neighbours of Russia, as a threat. It would not only change the relationship of the European Union as a whole to Russia. No, it would also, and I am firmly convinced of this, massively damage Russia both economically and politically."

Merkel said that in a year in which Europe is marking both the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I and 25 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall, Russia must learn from the mistakes of the past.

"You cannot turn back the clock," she said.

"Conflicts of interest in the middle of Europe in the 21st century can only be resolved successfully if we do not employ the means of the 19th and 20th centuries."

Merkel is widely seen as the EU's most influential figure in the Crimea crisis but has been accused of reluctance to bring real pressure to bear against Russia due to Germany's close trade ties with the country.

- 'Shameful' -

During a visit to Poland Wednesday for talks with Prime Minister Donald Tusk, she warned Russia of a "second stage of sanctions" that could be imposed on Monday if Moscow fails to reverse its course on Crimea.

Fresh sanctions could include freezing personal assets of Russians or Ukrainians seen as instigating the crisis as well as a visa ban and Merkel said further steps were possible.

Merkel, who grew up in communist East Germany and is a fluent Russian speaker, said "no one" wanted to have to impose sanctions and insisted that the EU's offer of closer ties with Ukraine was not "directed against Russia".

She described a long-awaited political accord between Ukraine and the EU that could be signed as early as next week at a Brussels summit as a "neighbourly" overture without "geopolitical" dimensions.

Merkel again ruled out the use of force in response to the Russian military build-up in Crimea ahead of a referendum on it joining Russia on Sunday, calling to applause from deputies for a "diplomatic" solution with Moscow.

"It is without a doubt nightmarish what is happening in Europe right now," she said.

"I fear we will need a long time to surmount it."

She rejected as "shameful" a statement last weekend by former chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, a Social Democrat with close ties to Russian President Vladimir Putin, that NATO's bombing campaign in Kosovo in 1999 had, like Russia's latest moves in Crimea, also constituted a violation of international law.

Merkel heads a "grand coalition" government with the Social Democrats.

A poll released Thursday showed a clear majority of Germans opposed sanctions against Russia over its actions into Crimea.

Sixty-nine percent said such measures would be ineffective in the current situation, according to the survey by independent polling group Forsa.

About one in four said they believed sanctions could help end the crisis.

© 2014 AFP

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