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Foreign Policy Research Institute

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A courtesy visit to Ukraine for the sake of partnership with Russia


In September, Germany will hold regular elections to the Bundestag. The event, which will have an impact on the political future of the whole of Europe, marks the end of Angela Merkel's era after her 16-year tenure as Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany. At the end of her term, Angela Merkel paid a working visit to Kyiv, having previously visited Washington and Moscow. Earlier this year, according to opinion polls, the German leader was a foreign politician with the highest credibility ratings among Ukrainians. However, in the absence of increased pressure on Russia due to the escalation in Donbas and the deployment of Russian troops on the border with Ukraine, due to official Berlin's attempts to partially share responsibility between Ukraine and Russia, as well as the completion of the Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline, perception of Germany and perception of its leadership in Ukraine has changed dramatically. This time Angela Merkel visited Kyiv not as a friend of Ukraine, but rather as a partner of Putin.

At a joint press conference with Vladimir Putin, the German Chancellor was very critical of the Kremlin's policy of imprisoning Alexei Navalny and even bluntly said that Germany does not recognize the illegal annexation of the Crimean Peninsula, despite the internal Russian legislation prohibiting such statements and assesses it as encroachment on the territorial integrity of the Russian Federation. However, the main thesis from Angela Merkel's speech can be considered the words about the ongoing and progressing cooperation between Russia and Germany, which was also noted by the Russian president, recalling the interest of German business in the Russian market. 

In Moscow, the German Chancellor also declared a «stagnation» in the work of the «Normandy format» and called for its intensification. «The Normandy format is the only political format we have at our disposal to discuss conflict issues. There is stagnation in this process, and unfortunately, Ukrainian soldiers continue to die on the line of demarcation.»[1] Merkel added that she would look for an agenda for a meeting in the «Normandy format» at the highest level during the meeting with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. It is worth noting that the President and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine have repeatedly stressed the desire to hold a meeting within the «Normandy format», but the Russian leadership refuses to hold a summit until Ukraine implements Steinmeier's formula and puts pressure on Kyiv through armed escalation in Donbas.

In his proper manner, Vladimir Putin called on Angela Merkel to put pressure on the Ukrainian leadership, accusing Kyiv of decision to abandon a peaceful solution. Also, Putin stated that the Ukrainian bill on the transition period in the temporarily occupied territories contradicts the Minsk agreements, and its adoption will mean Ukraine's unilateral withdrawal from the negotiation process. However, Putin did not name what specifically contradicts the Minsk agreements in the bill, which aims to ensure the deoccupation and safe reintegration of the temporarily occupied territories of Ukraine and citizens who are currently forced to live in the temporary occupation.

The main dilemma in the process of peaceful settlement remains the different interests of the parties. Ukraine's goal is the ultimate return of control over the occupied territories. At the same time, the Kremlin, while maintaining the low-intensity conflict that is taking the lives of Ukrainian servicemen on a daily basis, aims to impose a special status of ORDLO in the Ukrainian constitution in order to be able to influence political processes inside Ukraine. Realizing this, Angela Merkel's desire to «find a common agenda» during her visit to Ukraine did not raise much hope in Kyiv.

The meeting between Volodymr Zelenskyy and Angela Merkel did not raise much expectations for several reasons. Firstly, it is the upcoming elections in Germany. During the trip, the Chancellor did not intend to provide guarantees that could affect the position of her party. Secondly, it is Germany's desire to maintain cooperation with Russia. The main topics on the agenda were: the settlement of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict in the East of Ukraine, the issue of de-occupation of Crimea, as well as Nord Stream 2. The negotiations between Volodymyr Zelenskyy and Angela Merkel lasted about an hour.

At a press conference following the talks, the head of the German government stated that during the talks in Moscow she expressed an expectation the agreement on gas transit between Ukraine and Russia which expires in 2024, will be extended as soon as possible. However, no agreement was reached. Angela Merkel also decided not to take part in the constituent summit of the Crimean platform and was replaced by Germany's Minister of Energy. It is worth noting the United States was also represented by the Minister of Energy.

Volodymyr Zelenskyy has repeatedly stressed that Ukraine needs clear guarantees and agreements on the future of the Ukrainian GTS in the context of geopolitical threats posed by the Russian-German Nord Stream-2 project. The President of Ukraine noted that the greatest risks from the launch of Nord Stream 2 will be borne by Ukraine. «We have indeed discussed with the Chancellor the issue of extending the Gas Transit Agreement after 2024, but so far these are very general things. I would like to understand what Ukraine can gain and what it can lose after 2024, and who gives Ukraine concrete guarantees», Zelenskyy said. He reminded that due to the launch of Nord Stream-2, Kyiv has already initiated consultations with the European Commission and the German government within the framework of the Association Agreement between Ukraine and the EU.

The next topic discussed by the parties was the issue of a peaceful settlement in eastern Ukraine. Angela Merkel reiterated that Russia is a party to the conflict and supported Ukraine's position regarding categorical refusal to hold direct talks with LDPR militants as Moscow wants it. Although in the presence of Vladimir Putin during a press conference in Moscow, she did not dare to say this phrase. In Kyiv, the head of the German government reiterated the hopes expressed earlier in Moscow for the desire to organize a meeting of the heads of states of the «Normandy format» before she resigns. As Merkel noted, a «good agenda» should be formed for the summit. Given the Kremlin's repeated refusals to participate in the Normandy format before Ukraine implements the political part of the Minsk Agreements, and Vladimir Putin's calls to «put pressure on the Ukrainian leadership», it is likely that Germany will try to resolve the Ukrainian-Russian conflict at the expense of Ukraine. If the «Normandy format» partners will try to implement such a scenario, the signing of a new gas agreement may be tied to Ukraine's commitment to grant special status to ORDLO.

Angela Merkel's visit to Kyiv August 23 did not lead to significant changes on any important issue. On the one hand, the Chancellor expressed support for the sovereignty and territorial integrity of Ukraine once again, condemning the aggressive actions of the Russian Federation. On the other hand, the current German leadership goes no further than calling Russia a party to the conflict, and only in Kyiv. Attempts to remain a mediator, not to get involved in a conflict with Russia in the event of increased support for Ukraine, show that Ukraine cannot rely on Germany in resolving the conflict in the East. Regionalization within the European Union is becoming more apparent as contradictions between Western European and Eastern European member states increase. In this paradigm, states of the “Bucharest Nine” and the Anglo-Saxon countries are the main partners of Ukraine in deterring the Russian threat. Germany's desire to invest in the development of green energy is not a real support.

In addition, the security issue remains unresolved. In economic dimension, the demand for natural gas in the world is increasing, the statesmen in Berlin clearly understand this, so the funds that Western partners plan to invest in an alternative source of energy will not cover Ukraine's economic losses from the loss of transit. In fact, at the end of Angela Merkel's term, Germany took on the role of a geopolitical partner of the Russian Federation, and given the high probability of Armin Lashet victory, Merkels’ CDU / CSU party candidate, Germany's position may remain unchanged in the future.