German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the European Union will press ahead with tougher sanctions against Russia as evidence mounts that President Vladimir Putin is behind “attacks” on Ukraine.
“It’s become ever clearer that, from the beginning, this hasn’t been about a conflict within Ukraine, but a conflict between Russia and Ukraine,” Merkel told German lawmakers today in the lower house of parliament in Berlin.
The remarks underscore the German leader’s growing exasperation with the escalating conflict and her government’s more assertive role in seeking to resolve it as Russian soldiers continue an incursion into Ukrainian territory.
Merkel was among EU leaders over the weekend who said further measures against Russia are necessary, and gave the European Commission a week to deliver proposals for sanctions that may target Russia’s energy and finance industries.
Addressing the risks involved for Europe’s largest economy should measures against Russia harden, Merkel said Germany is prepared for any economic fallout from the actions.
“Being able to change borders in Europe without consequences, and attacking other countries with troops, is in my view a far greater danger than having to accept certain disadvantages for the economy,” she said earlier at a press conference in the German capital.
After German lawmakers stood for a moment of silence to remember the 75th anniversary of the beginning of World War II, when German troops invaded Poland, Merkel cited Germany’s “historic responsibility” to be the guardian of stability.
In the extraordinary session of parliament, the Chancellor defended her government’s decision to break a postwar taboo on weapons shipments to send arms to Iraqi security forces to resist the spread of Islamic State militants in the Middle East.
“Such a broad-based destabilization across an entire region is also having an impact on Germany and Europe,” Merkel said in a speech to the lower house of parliament, or Bundestag. Islamic State’s spread “must be stopped,” she said.
While German efforts in Iraq and Syria are being coordinated with the U.S and European allies, Merkel’s government has taken a lead position in attempts to resolve the Ukraine conflict, which the United Nations says has killed almost 2,600 people, mostly in eastern Ukraine.
The situation in Ukraine deteriorated further today, with government troops fighting with pro-Russian rebels for control of Luhansk airport and Putin raising the prospect of “statehood” for parts of southern Ukraine.
“There won’t be a military solution to this conflict,” Merkel said. She reiterated that she opposes European weapons deliveries to Ukraine, saying such a move would imply the conflict can be resolved with military action.
Negotiations got under way in Belarus today to seek an end to the fighting as the government in Kiev claimed about 1,600 Russian soldiers were advancing into the region.
Ukraine and the weapons shipments have triggered a debate in Germany on its role in engaging in international conflicts. A Merkel ally, senior Christian Democratic lawmaker Andreas Schockenhoff, said last week that Germany should match its economic power by taking on more responsibility.
“We can’t extract ourselves from these events,” Schockenhoff, Merkel’s coordinator for relations with Russia during her previous two terms, said in an Aug. 27 interview. “There is a consciousness that this is also about our security.”