Foreign Policy Research Institute

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Foreign Policy Research Institute

tel. +38 (044) 287 52 58

Kyiv-Berlin: the perspectives of the Normandy Format and the impact of the Navalny poisoning on the relations between Germany and Russia

The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Germany Haiko Maas is a frequent guest in Ukraine. On August, 24, the Head of German diplomacy made his second visit to Kyiv for this year.  It was the first visit of a German high-level official to Ukraine on its Independence Day. The unchanged issue for the negotiation between two foreign ministers was the settlement of the armed conflict in Donbas. Not long before, Mister Maas had visited the Russian Federation, where he held negotiations with his Russian counterpart. Thus, the German Minister of Foreign Affairs checked both positions and made an attempt to build bridges before the future meeting in Paris that was planned for the 28 of August but was postponed for the later.

Germany, as well as France, continues to emphasize the need for the implementation of the agreement, reached by the leaders of the Normandy format last year. It seems that Berlin places high hopes on the July truce as a keystone for the further steps in the process of the settlement of the conflict in Donbas. But the ceasefire regime is too fragile – on September,6, its violation has led to the death of a Ukrainian soldier. Germany aims to catch the moment of unstable quiet for the promotion of further political and diplomatic dialogue. The same expectation is in Kyiv, so the response of Ukrainian authorities on the Russian shelling in Donbas was quite low-key.

Until now, Germany has taken a loyal position on the Russian Federation. One of the reasons for this lies in the economic interests of the parties, in particular in the context of the construction of Nord Stream-2. While in Russia in the first half of August, the German Foreign Minister Haiko Maas once again criticized US sanctions against the pipeline: “No state has the right to dictate the EU's energy policy. And it will not work. " However, now it seems that official Berlin is up to change its position on Nord Stream 2 and Russia in general. The catalyst for this process was the poisoning of Russian opposition leader Alexei Navalny on August, 20. At first, the position of German Chancellor Angela Merkel was unshakable - she said that the completion of the Nord Stream-2 should not be linked to the poisoning of Navalny. However, when German experts officially confirmed the poisoning of a Russian oppositionist with the nerve agent Novichok, the rhetoric of the German government changed. On September, 2 the German chancellor said that someone wanted to "force Navalny to silence": "We expect Russia to provide clarification on this issue. There are very serious questions that only the Russian government can and should answer. " And although Angela Merkel did not directly point to the Kremlin's guilt, Berlin clearly understands that the evidence leads directly to the door of Vladimir in the Kremlin.

Navalny's poisoning strengthened anti-Russian sentiments in German political discourse. The chairman of the Bundestag's foreign affairs committee, Norbert Roettgen, said the EU's response to the assassination attempt on Navalny should include various aspects, including the perspective of Nord Stream 2: "The only language Putin understands is the language of natural gas." By the way, Mr. Roettgen is one of the candidates for the post of head of the "Christian Democratic Union". Given the party's leadership in the national polls, it is possible that he may replace Angela Merkel as chancellor after the 2021 election. The growing demand for a tougher German stance on Russia increases the Roettgen`s chances to bypass the position of the Minister-Presidents of North Rhine-Westphalia Armin Laschet, who is known for his pro-Russian views. In this context, we agree with the opinion of German political expert Andreas Umland: ‘Lachet's rating fell before this story with Navalny. And other politicians, tougher on Russia, took the leading position in the CDU. Given the political consequences of the poisoning of Navalny, the position of such potential successors to Merkel has strengthened[1].

Thus, there is a good opportunity for Ukraine to more actively involve Germany on its side. Contacts with Putin and a policy of appeasement are once again becoming toxic to Western nations, at least for a period of time. Evidence of this, in particular, is the cancellation of the visit of the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Defense of France to Russia. Therefore, it is time for Kyiv to catch the moment to increase political and diplomatic pressure on Moscow, involving Berlin and Paris to its side in regard to the negotiations in the Normandy format.