Audio / video source:

[Speech given on March 13, 2014, by Gregor Gysi, MP, in the Bundestag [Federal Parliament], Berlin, Germany.]

Gregor Gysi of the German Party "Die Linke" On the Situation in Ukraine.

"The leader of the opposition, Gregor Gysi, will speak now:

Mr. President, ladies and gentlemen. Putin wants to solve the whole crisis in Ukraine militarily. He has not understood that the problems of humanity can neither be solved by soldiers, nor by weapons. The opposite is the case. Russia’s problems also cannot be solved in this way. His thinking and his actions are wrong and we condemn them explicitly. Yet, it is the same thinking that was and is present in the west for Yugoslavia, in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya. System confrontations [of the past] were replaced by the opposing interests of the USA and Russia. The Cold War is over, but such opposing interests can lead to very similar traits. The USA want to gain more influence and defend existing influence, and Russia wants to gain more influence and defend existing influence. When talking about Russia, I shall only mention Georgia, Syria, Ukraine.

Even when one condemns Putin’s actions, one must also look at how the whole confrontation and intensification came to be. And I shall tell you very clearly: Everything that NATO and the EU could have done in the wrong way, they did in fact do in the wrong way.

I begin with Gorbachev in the year 1990. He suggested to form a common European house:  the dissolution of NATO and of the Warsaw Pact, while finding a common security [arrangement] with Russia. This is what NATO rejected. They said: Dissolution of the Warsaw Pact: Yes. The NATO stays… And the defensive [NATO] alliance was transformed into an interventionist alliance. The second error: In the context of the creation of German unity, the US foreign minister and the German foreign minister at the time, [Mr.] Genscher, and other foreign ministers told Gorbachev: No eastwards expansion of NATO will take place. This promise was broken. There was a radical expansion of NATO towards Russia. And the former US foreign minister, Robert Gates, described the rapid inclusion of the East European states into NATO as a grave mistake and the attempt of the West to include Ukraine in NATO as grave provocation - that’s not what I said, this was said by the former US foreign minister! Then, thirdly, the decision was made to station missiles in Poland and the Czech Republic. The Russian government said: This concerns our security interests, we do not want this. The West couldn’t care less, and it was done anyway. And finally, NATO gravely and repeatedly violated international law in the Yugoslavian war. This has by now been confirmed even by former German chancellor Schröder. Serbia had not attacked another state and there was no resolution of the UN Security Council. And yet, bombs were dropped, and for the first time since 1945, there was German involvement in it. The citizens of Kosovo were allowed to decide in favor of the separation from Serbia in a plebiscite.

Back then, I heavily criticised these violations of international law and I have told you regarding the Kosovo case that a Pandora’s Box is being opened. Because if this is allowed in Kosovo, then you must also allow it in other regions. You insulted me. You did not take it seriously. And you did this because you thought you were such victors of the Cold War that all old rules were not applicable to you anymore. I tell you: The Basks ask why they can’t have a plebiscite that asks whether they want to belong to Spain or not. The Catalans ask why they can’t have a plebiscite that asks whether they want to belong to Spain or not. And so do the citizens of Crimea. And through violation of international law, through habitual law, you can create new international law, you know that. Yet, my opinion stands that the detachment of Crimea [from Ukraine] would be violating international law - as was the detachment of Kosovo [from Yugoslavia]. 

I knew that Putin would refer to Kosovo and that is just what he did. And now you, Ms. Chancellor, tell me that this situation is totally different. [Someone (Ms. Roth?) shouting “It is!”]. Yes, that may be… But you disregard that violation of international law violation is [respectively, remains] violation of international law. My dear Ms. Roth, why don’t you ask a judge if a theft committed due to a noble motive is not a theft, in comparison to a theft committed with a non-noble motive? He will tell you that it stays a theft. That is the problem! That is the problem! And Mr. Struck [the former German secretary of defense] has explained a while ago that the Federal Republic of Germany must defend its security at the Hindukush [i.e. in the frontier region between China, Pakistan, and Afghanistan]. Now Mr. Putin explains Russia must defend its security in the Crimea. Germany, by the way, had no fleet [stationed] in the Hindukush [region] and was considerably further away [from that region than Russia is from the Crimean peninsula where they have a leased naval base]. Still I say, both sentences were and are wrong. 

Yet, the following holds: When many international law violators blame the international law violator Russia for violating international law, this is not particularly effective and trustworthy. That is the fact we are facing. Obama spoke, like you, Ms. Chancellor, of the sovereignty and territorial integrity of nations. But these two principles were violated in Serbia, Iraq and Libyia. The West thought it could violate international law because the Cold War was over. Chinese and Russian interests were heavily underestimated. You did not take Russia - under Yeltsin, who was so often even drunk - serious anymore. But the situation changed. Of late, you refer now again to the principles of international law that were established during the Cold War. I am very much in favour of their being [considered] valid again, but if so, this must apply to all! This is the only way. 

Then there was the tug of war between the EU and Russia with Ukraine in the middle. Both [parties] thought and acted in the same way. Barroso, head of the European Commission, said [to the Ukrainian government,] EITHER a customs union with Russia OR contracts with us. He did not say, BOTH [is possible]. [It was] Either-or! And Putin said, EITHER contracts with us OR with the EU. Both thought and acted in the same way. It was a gigantic mistake by both sides. No EU foreign minister tried to speak to the Russian government while at least recognising the rightful security interests of Russia. Russia is afraid that in the tracks of the EU,  NATO will enter Ukraine. It feels more and more surrounded. But everyone pulled at Ukraine. The EU and NATO foreign ministers completely ignored the history of Ukraine. They never understood the importance of Crimea to Russia. And Ukrainian society is deeply divided. This, too,  was not recognised. This deep division already showed in WWII [when units were formed voluntarily by West Ukrainians that fought against America's war-time ally, the Soviet Union, side by side with the Hitler Wehrmacht, whereas in Eastern Ukraine, a strong partisan movement resisted Hitler Germany, side by side with the Red Army]. And it shows today. Eastern Ukraine tends towards Russia, Western Ukraine tends towards Western Europe. At this moment, there is no single Ukrainian political figure that could represent both parts of society. That is a sad truth. 

And then there is the Council of Europe and the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) which you gravely neglected, Ms. Chancellor, [and you,] Mr. foreign minister. The funding for these organisations was cut more and more in the past because you thought they were not important. Yet they are the only organisations in which both Russia and Ukraine also take part. Thus we must strengthen these organisations and should not discuss Russia’s exclusion. That [latter proposal] is completely missing the point. 

Then we saw a massive intensification on Maidan. Then we saw snipers and many deaths. There are various rumours. In such situations, people lie a lot. And that is why, in such situations, we propose an international investigating committee. We and the Ukrainians have a right to know what happened there, who is responsible… And I am happy that you support this, Ms. Chancellor. On Maidan, there were many democratic forces. But also fascists. The West was directly and indirectly involved. And at the time,  [German] foreign minister Steinmeier, [as well as] the French and Polish foreign ministers, reached an agreement with Janukovych and the opposition. And now you, Mr. foreign minister,  are saying that [President] Janukovych scrapped the agreement by fleeing [the country]. That is wrong. The people on Maidan rejected this agreement by a great majority. And you, Mr. foreign minister, also did not speak in favor of this agreement on that square. And only after its rejection did Janukovych leave Kiev. Then, parliament had a meeting, and they voted him out of office with 72.88% [in favor of it]. Yet, the constitution dictates 75%. Now Mr. Röttgen and others say, well, during a revolution you can’t take the constitution literally, what are a few percentiles more or less?… But Putin references this and says there was no constitutional majority to vote him out of office, and refers to documents received from Janukovych. By the way, during the poll, armed soldiers were present. Not very democratic. During the plebiscite in Crimea on Sunday, there will also be armed soldiers. Also not very democratic. Interesting is also that you, Ms. Chancellor, say, that such a plebiscite is forbidden by the Ukrainian constitution. So, when is the constitution to be upheld, and when isn't it [to be upheld]? When it's about voting the [elected] president out of office, it is not [to be upheld], and with regard to the plebiscite in Crimea, it is [to be upheld]? You should decide whether you accept the constitution as a whole or only in specific cases when you feel like it. The latter is the way I have seen [you doing it], and I don’t like. 

Then a new government was formed. [It was] immediately recognized by President Obama, also by the EU, [and] also by Germany. Ms. Merkel! This [new Ukrainian] government’s vice premier minister, [as well as] the defence minister, the agricultural minister, the environmental minister, the Attorney General… are fascists! The head of the national security committee was co-founder of the fascist Swoboda party. Fascists have important positions and dominate, for example, the security sector. And never have fascists voluntarily given up power once they had conquered a part of it. At least Germany should have drawn the line here, especially because of our history. When Haider’s FPÖ joined the government in Austra, there were even contact barriers! Andin the case of the fascists in Ukraine, we do nothing?! Swoboda [one of the Ukrainian party's that form the new government in Kiev] has close contacts to the NPD [the German neo-Nazi party] and other Nazi parties in Europe. The chairman of this party, Olek Tyahnybok, has stated the following. I am going to quote him now. You need to grasp this, what he has said, literally: “Grab your weapons. Fight the Russian pigs, the Germans and the Jew swines and others pests”. End of quote. I repeat. This man has said “Grab your weapons. Fight the Russian pigs, the Germans and the Jew swines and others pests”. Attacks on jews and left-wingers are now common, and to all of this you say nothing? You talk with these Swoboda people? I think this is a scandal. I have to tell you this clearly.

Now you want, as you said, to impose sanctions, if all else fails. But they will not impress Putin. They will only make the situation worse. Kissinger, the former US foreign minister, is right. He says sanctions do not express a strategy but the lack of a strategy. That also holds for the escalating military flights over Poland and the Baltic states: What’s the point? Accounts of Janukovych and his supporters are blocked because they contain stolen state funds. My question: You did not know this [when you talked to him, and reached agreements with him]? Second question: Why only their accounts? What about the billions of oligarchic money used to support others [in Ukraine now], why aren’t you interfering there? Why is this going on in such a one-sided way? 

There is only the way of diplomacy! First: The West must recognise the legitimate security interests of Russia on the Crimea[n peninsula], which is - by the way - also how US foreign minister Kerry sees it. We must find a status for Crimea that Ukraine, Russia and we can live with. We have to give guarantees to Russia that Ukraine will not become a member of NATO. Secondly: The perspective of Ukraine lies in its bridge function between the EU and Russia. Thirdly: A process of understanding between the East and the West [of that country] must be initiated in Ukraine, maybe through a federal or confederated status, maybe even through two presidents. What I accuse the EU and NATO of is this: Until today, no [positive] relationship with Russia has been sought or found. This has to change dramatically. Security in Europe is not possible against or without Russia but only with Russia. And if the [present] crisis is overcome one day, the one [noteworthy] advantage could be that international law is finally recognised again by all sides. Thank you. "

March 13, 2014, Bundestag [Federal Diet, i.e. the German parliament], Berlin, Germany.

The original translation by "iskra" has been polished in order to make it more readable. Additions that clarify the meaning of the speech have been added in brackets [].

Go back to Art in Society # 14, Contents