The machinery of international uproar promptly sprang into full gear. The “elections” in the separatist area of the Ukrainian Donets Basin were a “farce,” said Kiev's President Petro Poroshenko. The new representative of the European Union for foreign affairs, Federica Mogherini, called the process “illegal, illicit and obstructive to the peace process.” Germany’s social democratic foreign minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier played the same tune. And his American colleague John Kerry was outraged when he heard the news.
All of these statesmen are right: The balloting on Sunday in the self-proclaimed “people’s republics” of Donetsk and Luhansk did not constitute genuine elections. There were no up-to-date electoral rolls, no certified voting rights, not even an exact figure for the number of eligible voters - not to mention the lack of choice among parties and an election conducted in front of the flashing muzzles of the Kalashnikovs of pro-Russian fighters.
All this deserves criticism. But politics is not a matter of complaining loudly, but of coming up with productive solutions.
Above all, this means facing up to realities. One of these is that the ringleaders elected on Sunday in Donetsk and Luhansk are now the strongmen in the Ukrainian coal-mining and industrial region. And they are the ones with whom negotiations must be conducted on the status of the two territories and a ceasefire – whether they were legitimately elected or not.
It is better to negotiate with elected representatives than with self-proclaimed ones.
During the Cold War, the United States negotiated disarmament issues with a Soviet leadership that had in no way emerged from free elections. Former German Chancellor Willy Brandt managed to ease travel restrictions to East Germany through negotiations with the Socialist Unity Party (SED), which had forcibly incorporated the East German wing of his own Social Democratic Party in 1946. That is realpolitik seeking concrete progress. The Russian foreign minister, Sergey Lavrov, was correct when he observed that it is better to negotiate with elected representatives than with self-proclaimed ones.
What is important is to perserve the territorial integrity of Ukraine, for Russia and the European Union to take part in a positive development in Ukraine, in more self-administration in the Ukrainian regions and, above all, in an end to the pointless war in Eastern Ukraine.
Europe doesn't need any new lines of division, nor does Russia need a permanent trouble spot on its doorstep. We need to concentrate on the issues and not the question of leadership in the Donets Basin.
The European Union's new foreign affairs representative could make use of the fact that she is not tangled up in the trench warfare between Russia and the West. Until recently, Ms. Mogherini’s relations to Moscow – criticized by various parties in Brussels – were characterized by an understanding attitude. She should make use of this.
The example of German reunification also shows that speech bubbles or politically correct diplomacy, which discredited unacceptable negotiation partners and thereby entire countries, haven’t changed anything. The wall didn’t shake even a little bit. It was torn down by those who didn’t concern themselves with expressions. They focused on the issues and freedom, not on formalities.
And now the issues now in Europe are peace and detente.
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