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Ukraine

Rebecca Harms: 'They're covering the tracks'

Rebecca Harms, co-chairwoman of the Greens in the European Parliament, believes the separatists were behind the shooting down of flight MH17. She also calls for international control of the Ukrainian-Russian border.

DW: You went to Ukraine right after the plane crash in the east of the country (18.-21.07.2014). Have you got a clearer sense of who was behind it?

Rebecca Harms: There have been several incidents lately where Ukrainian army jets were shot down in eastern Ukraine. In those cases it was always the self-proclaimed separatists who brought those planes down with Russian special weapons systems. It is looking increasingly likely that whoever says the separatists shot down the Malaysian plane is right. The blockage of the crash site, the fact that those franctireurs didn't allow relatives and international experts to access the site – all of that seems to suggest that they're trying to cover the tracks.

Where exactly did you go in Ukraine? What impressed you most?

I had planned this trip to eastern Ukraine before the plane disaster. I'd wanted to get a better idea of what people there are thinking about democracy and the new government. That's all overshadowed now by the war in the easternmost part of Ukraine. One example is the city of Kharkiv. Life does go on there, but friends in the region whom I've known for a long time have told me that there is still a lot of tension between those who support Russian policies and those who support Kyiv. There is a lot of fear. Kharkiv is close to the Russian border and the warzone. At night, people there often hear the sounds from the big tank units that are being moved.

There are also a lot of people who say they don't want to respect that Russia decides what is Ukrainian territory and what isn't. They're ready to fight for their country. At the same time, they say nobody wanted this war, and that the self-proclaimed separatists who have Russia's support left them with no choice but to get involved. They feel like somebody set Ukraine up. They expect the West to do more and at last send a clear message to President Putin that they're not willing to accept another frozen conflict.

And what do people in the city of Slovyansk say, which until a short while ago was a separatist stronghold?

Of course you can't make general assumptions based on individual conversations. But the first thing I heard from people there was 'We pray that something like this never happens again.' I saw how many people in Slovyansk want to support Ukrainian soldiers. But their criticism of the government in Kyiv continues as well. Saying that you support the Ukrainian side doesn't necessarily mean you support everything Mr Poroshenko and Mr Yatsenyuk are doing in Kyiv.

There is a lot of talk in Ukraine about a potential turning point. Did you feel that when you were there?

Soldiers from a voluntary battalion in Artyomovsk told me that the local population have reacted extremely positively to them, that they have received food from locals and that taxi drivers take them around town for free. I believe that the end of the rule of force there, the end of lawlessness can mean that people develop a stronger commitment to Ukraine. In the past, people who refused to hand over their cars to the separatists were threatened, and they felt robbed. But what I do find disconcerting is that we still don't have an answer to the question of how we can gain control of this trap, this military escalation which was forced upon Ukraine from outside. Europe needs to support Ukraine more consistently.

Will the EU tighten sanctions?

As cynical as that may sound: in the space of a few hours, the heads of state and government have now experienced what people in Ukraine have been experiencing for months. When they were in Brazil, Mrs Merkel and Mr Putin called on Mr Poroshenko to negotiate with the self-proclaimed separatists. And now it's dawning on all heads of state in Europe that those are lawless, unethical militia who you can't talk to. I've returned with two core demands. There must not be an automatic development into war. And to me, the most important idea is to close the Russian-Ukrainian border. If you can get Russia's consent to that more easily through sanctions then I'm all for it.

Rebecca Harms, 57, has been the group leader of the Greens in the European Parliament since 2010. She went to Ukraine in 1986 as an anti-nuclear campaigner after the atomic reactor disaster in Chernobyl and has visited the country many times since then.

The interview was conducted by Roman Goncharenko.

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