Kurt Volker, the US’s top negotiator for Ukraine, has told DW why the conflict no longer makes headlines. In an exclusive interview, he said the war has to get “back to the front pages” for peace to have a chance.
The US’s top negotiator in Ukraine suggested Wednesday the four-year-old conflict in the country’s eastern regions no longer makes headlines because many European countries would like to improve their relationship with Russia.
“Honestly, I think a lot of European governments don’t want this to be a permanent obstacle to dealing with Russia,” Ambassador Kurt Volker told DW in response to a question about why the conflict had been “forgotten.”
“They’re unhappy with Russia’s actions, they’re not happy with the invasion, they put in place sanctions but they don’t want that to be permanent. And so they would like to see this to go away.”
The US Special Representative for Ukraine has been working with his European counterparts to resolve the struggle between Ukraine’s pro-European central government and Russian-backed separatist forces since his appointment in July.
Volker, a former US ambassador to NATO, said that European governments would ideally like to drop stringent economic sanctions against Moscow and senior Russian officials.
“The problem is that Russia is persisting and it’s not going away,” Volker said.
The EU and US have passed multiple sanctions in response to Moscow’s support for rebel forces in Ukraine’s Donetsk and Luhansk regions since 2014.
Russia’s intervention in those regions, which followed its annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula, erupted after pro-Kremlin Ukrainian President Viktor Viktor Yanukovych fled the country in late 2013in response to massive pro-European protests in the capital.
But some EU member states have come under pressure to soften sanctions against Moscow amid complaints from European businesses with strong ties to Russia.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel sharply criticized US proposals to expand sanctions in 2017 that would have harmed multiple European energy firms.
To end a war
The US and the EU have also tried to diffuse the conflict in recent years through several ceasefire agreements.
But those efforts have failed amid both sides repeatedly accusing each other of breaking ceasefire terms. The most recent ceasefire agreed in August fell apart after Russia accused Ukraine of blocking access to its observers.
Despite the failures, Volker said only a renewed effort to resolve the conflict would help all sides regain normal diplomatic and economic relations.
“We actually need to get it [the conflict] out of the dustbin and back to the front pages to get it resolved because otherwise we’ll never get to that point that our European allies really want to get to,” Volker said. “We’ve got to tackle it head on and we’ve got to have Russia willing to do that.”