Inconsistent policies on Ukraine

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy
Is German Chancellor Angela Merkel (L) taking Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy’s side or turning her back on him? (source: dpa)

On June 20, European Union leaders agreed to prolong the bloc’s sanctions against Russia. The sanctions were imposed in response to Russia’s annexation of Crimea and the shooting down of Malaysian Airways flight 17, which had crossed into Ukrainian airspace on its way from Amsterdam to Kuala Lumpur.  

Continuing the sanctions is business as usual. Germany made a point of emphasizing that the situation in Ukraine is unacceptable. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy asked Chancellor Angela Merkel to ratchet up the sanctions to force a change in Moscow’s position, but she declined.  

That was probably the right move, as the sanctions lack credibility and have proven ineffective. The EU’s nonchalant attempt to include Ukraine in its Eastern Partnership program while ignoring Russia is coming back to bite the bloc. The Eastern Partnership was certainly legitimate and necessary, but it brought in Ukraine without considering Russia’s interests or its economic connections with Ukraine.

With its new leadership, Kiev could now take the driver’s seat in negotiations

German policies on Ukraine have been inconsistent. On one side, the government has strongly backed prolonging the ineffective sanctions. On the other, it has supported the Nord Stream 2 project, which will make the country’s energy sector more dependent on Russian gas. (This is actually a natural consequence of Berlin’s populist energy policy, which has also made Germany’s energy costs the highest in the world.) This inconsistency makes Germany vulnerable to deteriorating relations with Washington and exposes its businesses to potential secondary U.S. sanctions.  

Yet, the rest of Europe also lacks solutions. Developments in Kiev, however, leave room for hope. President Zelenskiy appears to be making a strong effort – and he also has a sharp wit. When the Kremlin challenged Ukraine’s sovereignty by offering Russian passports to all Ukrainians, he ridiculed the proposal and offered the Russian population Ukrainian citizenship.  

The Minsk negotiations were mainly talks between Russia on one side and, on the other, Germany and France with the participation of Ukraine’s then-President Petro Poroshenko. With its new leadership, Kiev could now take the driver’s seat in negotiations – with, one hopes, strong but pragmatic Western backing.

 

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