Bohdan Nahaylo

April 8, 2021

Kyiv Post

Barely a week ago, I alerted in my column to the fact that Berlin and Paris had held talks behind the backs of Kyiv with Moscow.  I emphasized that this was neither diplomatically tactful nor particularly helpful in the situation.

Now Germany’s leader has gone further and followed up with a shameful de facto hugging session with the chief enemy of Europe’s unity and of Ukraine as a sovereign state – Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.

On April 8, Chancellor Angela Merkel held a telecom with Putin, in which, according to Moscow’s account, he lectured her that Ukraine is responsible for the escalation of security concerns on the front line in eastern Ukraine. And, in effect, he reiterated his preconditions for peace – the acceptance of Moscow’s terms.

Merkel will no doubt seek to justify the exchange as an attempt on behalf of her Western partners to persuade Putin to stop his menacing behavior in building up forces on Ukraine’s borders and thereby setting off alarm bells.

But the fact is that by agreeing to talk to Putin at this tense moment one on one, Merkel has again allowed the Kremlin to exploit the opportunity to promote its own narrative –  to project the line to the outside world that the impediment to peace in eastern Ukraine is  Kyiv, that it, and not Moscow, is to blame for what is happening there. For a largely uninformed, misinformed, or simply gullible international audience, this does the trick, fostering doubts and misperceptions.  Merkel’s strange behavior also remains out of synch with that of her transatlantic and European partners.

On April 7, the US Defense Department hosted a virtual meeting on Ukraine’s situation.  NATO colleagues from Canada, Lithuania, Poland, and the United Kingdom participated and reaffirmed their “unwavering support for Ukraine’s sovereignty, territorial integrity, and Euro-Atlantic aspirations and discussed concerns about the increase in Russian military activity in the region.”

Where was Germany, or for that matter, France?

Lithuania and Latvia in recent days have reiterated their endorsement of Ukraine joining NATO.  And Germany –  silence? On April 8, Poland’s foreign minister was in Kyiv to discuss the alarming build-up of Russian forces on Ukraine’s borders.

NATO Secretary-General and the US president have responded in recent days by reassuring Ukraine of their support.  And from Ukraine’s supposed partners in the Normandy Four arrangement – a deafening silence?

Although in the previous trilateral telecom between Berlin, Paris, and Moscow, all the interlocutors, and understandably also a left-out, embarrassed Kyiv, held to the pretense that this was not part of the Normandy Four quartet process which is supposedly engaged

in finding a peaceful resolution to the Russo-Ukrainian war in eastern Ukraine; the cat was soon out of the bag.

Russia, in the official accounts,  emphasized the Ukrainian element during the telecom, over and above common concerns about dealing with the Covid-19 pandemic.  Read, Moscow seeking to expedite the acceptance of its own dubious vaccine, Sputnik V, on the European market, with Berlin’s nod, and Paris’ reluctant, yet passive acceptance of a fait accompli.

We have also learned that the so-called peace plan that Berlin and Paris have proposed to Kyiv and Moscow concerning Russia’s aggression  – whether with or without the Normandy format – remains uncertain, hardly helps the Ukrainian cause, and plays into the hands of Moscow.

So once again, and more emphatically after  Merkel’s unilateral telecom with Putin – enough said, thank you Berlin, but you are not helping, only complicating matters.

Nord Stream 2 and Merkel’s inexplicable enduring defense of this highly discredited Moscow-promoted scheme, also defies logic, European standards, and reeks of selfish German business self-interest of the sort personified by former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, Putin’s highly paid servant.

Incidentally, it is important to note, that the Kremlin is showing its determination to exploit the vaccine issue and reap the financial and political dividends it stands to gain, to exploit it as the latest potential projection of its soft power.  We have seen this in Ukraine and, in recent days, within Europe as a whole.

Germany, Slovakia, and other European countries are defying the European Union’s reservations and clutching at the Sputnik V as drowning patients seeking salvation from bundles of straw.

With Germany’s tacit cooperation, Russia is using the vaccine issue as a means of dividing Europe.  To his credit, Frances’s president Macron, defending domestic manufacturers of vaccines, has realized what Moscow and Beijing are up to in this regard.

Berlin should not be allowed to play along with Moscow, making the Sputnik V issue a diversionary tactic and one that supersedes for the moment the controversial question of the Russo-German Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

I have stressed that in my view Berlin and Paris have chosen to act on behalf of the rest of Europe and, while in effect promoting their own particular national interests, to speak on behalf of the rest of the democratic European family. 

So today, we look at Merkel as she prepares to end her long political career and wonder whether she wants to be remembered as a strong European woman politician who stood her ground at home and abroad, or another German cynical “realpolitik” type like Schroeder for whom cynicism in whatever garb was more attractive than principles and demonstrating the qualities of a European leader that really count.

The bottom line is an unpleasant one to mention, but someone has to say it. Germany, today’s united, large, economically vibrant, European powerhouse – for all its current

merits – cannot be allowed to get too big for its shoes and be allowed to assume a domineering role within Europe.

History has taught us that, and Merkel is hardly unaware of it. Democratic leaders of her stature should be leaving the stage with grace, not inviting stones to be thrown after them.