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Foreign Policy Research Institute

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The visit of the President of Ukraine V. Zelenskyy to Berlin as a post factum of change in the geopolitical situation


After Joe Biden was elected as president of the United States of America, there were high hopes on the European continent regarding the foreign policy of the 46th American president. His intention to renew transatlantic unity, unite democracies, and Biden's statements regarding Putin and Russia have created expectations of possible increase of pressure on the Russian Federation and increase of support for Ukraine in the near future. However, the shift in the US foreign policy focus to the Asia-Pacific region led first to a decrease in Washington's attention to Eastern Europe, and now the restoration of transatlantic unity is occurring at the expense of the Eastern European states. On July 21, it was announced that an agreement had been reached between the leadership of the United States and Germany on the Nord Stream - 2 gas pipeline. Thus, the Biden administration finally decided not to impose sanctions against Nord Stream - 2 AG and its management, which owns the gas pipeline, and not to block the completion of the Russian geopolitical project.

The US-German deal was preceded by Volodymyr Zelenskyy trip by to Berlin. At the beginning of his visit, the President of Ukraine met with the possible successor of Angela Merkel, a candidate for the post of chancellor from the CDU / CSU bloc, Armin Laschet. At the meeting with Laschet, the President of Ukraine had the opportunity to highlight the prospects for future cooperation between Ukraine and the Federal Republic of Germany, the main country of the European Union and its strategic partner, if the Prime Minister of North Rhine-Westphalia is elected as chancellor. The German direction is one of the key priorities for Ukraine's foreign policy, while the policy of the United States, aimed at placing greater responsibility on its allies, may indicate that it is Germany that will continue to play the main role in the peaceful settlement of the Russian-Ukrainian conflict. Therefore, establishing personal ties with a possible future chancellor is a correct and logical step on the part of the Ukrainian President. It was Zelenskyy who was the first foreign leader who had previously congratulated Laschet on his election as the new chairman of the CDU.

The main event was a meeting with Angela Merkel, where the President of Ukraine in a personal conversation tried to find a common vision with the current Chancellor on the issue of the Nord Stream-2 gas pipeline construction. The central topics of discussion were security guarantees for Ukraine, the security situation in the East and the implementation of reforms in Ukraine. The German side focused its rhetoric on the potential compensation to the Ukrainian side after the completion of the gas pipeline and its commissioning, which was considered a fait accompli in Berlin even before Angela Merkel's meeting with Joe Biden. There was no also a breakthrough in the issue of peaceful settlement in the east of Ukraine. Angela Merkel has again called on Ukraine to implement the «Steinmeier formula», without focusing on security issues, which, if implemented, would in fact be a recognition of «ORDLO» as a political entity. In addition, most of the population of the occupied Ukrainian territories are already citizens of the Russian Federation, and the Chancellor decided not to mention Russian troops in the Donetsk and Luhansk regions. In addition, this way of settlement will inevitably lead to a domestic political crisis in Ukraine and, consequently, to a strengthening of the positions of pro-Russian forces within the state, which does not seem to worry Ukraine's partners in the Normandy format. Germany's position on the potential supply of defense weapons also remained unchanged, while Volodymyr Zelenskyy's meeting with the German Minister of Defense was canceled. In general, the visit of Volodymyr Zelenskyy to Berlin did not lead to any shifts on fundamental issues and confirmed the different positions of the parties regarding the ways of their settlement.

After that, on July 15, Angela Merkel visited Washington. The meeting of the leaders of Germany and the United States was of great importance for both countries. Joseph Biden intends to restore relations with European allies, and Germany is assigned one of the central roles in American European strategy. This is evidenced by a document entitled «Washington Declaration», signed after the meeting, and which is similar in content to the «New Atlantic Charter», signed between the US and the UK a month earlier. In particular, the declaration reaffirms a shared commitment to democratic principles, values, and institutions. The intention to defend the open world is emphasized: «Across the globe, all nations must be free to determine their political futures free from foreign interference, coercion, or domination by outside powers». The parties declare that they will continue to work tirelessly for «a Europe that is whole, free, and at peace» and that NATO will remain the cornerstone of this effort. In addition, the parties reaffirmed their intention to oppose attempts to divide the world into spheres of influence.

However, contrary to the declared principles, the parties announced the conclusion of an agreement on the completion of the Nord Stream – 2 construction and its commissioning. On July 20, US State Department spokesman Ned Price said that the German side had «presented constructive proposals» regarding the pipeline during Chancellor Angela Merkel's visit. As a result, Washington and Berlin have allegedly come closer to a common goal: to prevent Russia from using energy as a weapon, a State Department spokesman added.[1] The agreement stipulates that the transit of Russian gas through the Ukrainian GTS should be extended for 10 years simultaneously with the operation of the gas pipeline. However, given that PP-2 may be commissioned in the near future, it is unclear what leverage the US and Germany will be able to use against Russia to force it to extend the contract for 10 years. In addition, it should be noted that Russia has long used energy as a weapon for political pressure. Thus, the parties are deliberately going to increase Europe's dependence on Russia. Germany is doing this for economic gain, and the United States is doing so to restore relations with Germany for the sake of a global confrontation with China. In fact, the leaders of the collective West tacitly agreed to establish a new «Vienna Concert» and divide Europe into spheres of influence. It is no coincidence that leading international experts have dubbed such agreements as the «pact» against Ukraine.

Undoubtedly, the agreement on Nord Stream 2 will have negative consequences both for Europe as a whole and for its Eastern part, first of all, for Ukraine. First, a democratic state like Germany will be more dependent on an authoritarian country - Russia. Second, with the loss of transit, Ukraine partially loses its geopolitical significance, which increases the likelihood of an increase of Russian aggression. In this context, the assurances of the leaders of the United States and Germany regarding their understanding of the security threats facing Ukraine and the possible imposition of sanctions against Russia if the Kremlin uses gas as a weapon or carries out further aggressive actions against Ukraine look like «paper assurances» in the spirit of the Budapest Memorandum. Thirdly, the financial proceeds that Ukraine received for transit, in particular, were used to modernize the Ukrainian gas transportation system, which is used both for gas supplies abroad and for domestic consumption. For now, Kyiv receives about $ 2 billion a year for the transit of Russian gas. The agreement also offers to create a fund for the energy modernization of Ukraine in the amount of at least $ 1 billion, which does not compensate for the economic damage from the loss of transit.

At the moment the world is undergoing cardinal geopolitical changes that require from Ukrainian diplomacy the ability to adapt to a dynamic external environment. The agreement between the United States and the Federal Republic of Germany on «Nord Stream – 2» at the expense of Ukrainian interests, despite the threats that this geopolitical project poses to the whole of Eastern Europe, creates certain opportunities. As the well-known international expert, ex - Putin's advisor Andrey Illarionov noted: «The most important task of Ukrainian diplomacy is to prevent the implementation of this pact in the same way as another pact concluded on August 23, 1939 in Moscow (the Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact) was implemented. Such pacts are always concluded against the weak side».[2]

First, Ukraine must insist on signing an international legal agreement with the United States that will contain security guarantees. Volodymyr Zelenskyy will be able to discuss this initiative with Joe Biden on August 30, 2021 during a working visit to Washington. Secondly, Ukraine and the EU must update the energy provisions of the free trade area, which is part of the EU-Ukraine Association Agreement, and ensure Ukraine's full integration into the EU internal market, apply EU competition rules to all gas supply routes from Russia.[3] At present, the Association Agreement actually imposes obligations on Ukraine and does not impose obligations on the European Union, so the with Nord Stream-2 case should be an argument for its renewal.

Third, Germany expresses support for Ukraine's accession to the ENTSO-E, i.e. Ukraine's disconnection from the old Soviet energy system and synchronization with the EU energy system. Given the fact that not all European countries are happy with the entry of Ukrainian suppliers with low prices to the market and therefore oppose this project, Germany's support can become a significant factor in the successful implementation of this initiative.[4] Fourth, given the lack of prospects for stopping the Nord Stream - 2 project, Ukraine should use the opportunity to attract investment in green energy, in particular hydrogen. This, in turn, will require Ukraine to be able to adopt appropriate legislation for the functioning of green energy in the country.