In an exclusive interview to RT Deutsch, Gabriel called Russian President Vladimir Putin’s peacekeeping initiative “the first right step” on the road to a comprehensive political settlement in Ukraine.
“What we need to do now is to carry out negotiations aimed at the implementation of such a ceasefire, withdrawal of heavy weaponry. Thanks to the Russian proposal we are able to do this now,” Gabriel said. Although there is disagreement on the details of the mission between Russia, Ukraine, and other parties, it should not serve as an obstacle to dialogue, Gabriel said.
Pointing out that both the Ukrainian forces and the rebels are to blame for repeated violations of the ceasefire, Gabriel said that Berlin has long been in favor of deploying a “robust armed UN mission” to eastern Ukraine.
“I advise all participants not to say that we won’t do this because not all of our demands are met, but to openly discuss with the Russian Federation the conditions of a UN mission,” Gabriel said.
The deployment, if successful in bringing about a lasting ceasefire, would pave the way for political settlement, Gabriel said, adding that “then, we will be able to begin lifting sanctions imposed on Russia.”
Speaking on Crimea’s reunification with Russia, a contentious issue that remains a major stumbling block in Russia-EU relations, Gabriel said that while Moscow and Berlin have opposing views on the matter, the chances to compromise elsewhere in Ukraine should not be neglected.
“These are small steps. It is impossible to hope that everything will go swiftly,” he said, adding that better relations are in the interests of both sides.
“I believe that… in the end we need good relations with Russia, and Russia needs good relations with Europe,” he said.
Earlier this week, Russia submitted a draft resolution to the UN Security Council envisioning a UN peacekeeping mission in eastern Ukraine. Speaking about the idea at the BRICS summit in China, Russian President Vladimir Putin said that the mission should focus“solely on providing security for OSCE officials” monitoring the ceasefire.
Among other realms where Germany and Russia share common interests, Gabriel mentioned weapons control, nuclear non-proliferation, maintaining international peace, and the joint fight against Islamist terrorism.
“I think there are a lot of things… for both countries,” he said.
While Gabriel’s Social Democratic Party (SPD) candidate in the upcoming German election may be trailing Chancellor Angela Merkel in the polls with a growing margin, Gabriel has for the first time topped the list of most popular German politicians, beating out Merkel, who came in second.
According to a September 7 poll by Infratest, 66 percent say they are satisfied with Gabriel, who stepped down as SPD head, yielding to current SPD candidate Martin Schulz.