German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas spoke out against tougher sanctions against Russia amid the latest escalation in and around eastern Ukraine. It is precisely due to the current tension, he believes, that dialogue with Moscow is needed. After all, relations between Russia and Germany (and the European Union in general) have deteriorated badly, "but this shouldn't be the case." He noted that pursuing a dialogue with governments with which relations are complicated is "the essence of diplomacy."
This actually hasn't changed much since 2014. Germany has a constant conflict of interest between values and prices. On the one hand, German companies constantly put pressure on their government to make sure sanctions are not imposed. On the other hand, Germany actually was a driver of anti-Russian sanctions in Europe and a locomotive of pressure exerted on Russia.
When Ukraine sought, demanded, and persuaded, we always had a guarantee that Germany, balancing between values and prices, would opt for values
Let's recall the "Steinmeier formula". Despite the name, it was Russia's Sergei Lavrov who had drafted it. This, in particular, is due to the peculiarities of Germany's top diplomats. Most often they represent another political force rather than the ruling party, represented by Chancellor. So when Frau Merkel showed serious support for Ukraine, Steinmeier was in close contact with Lavrov, and then he brought up Lavrov's proposal for general discussion, offering his own name for the title...
But Ukrainians tend to often forget how much influence their country actually has on the processes. When Ukraine sought, demanded, and persuaded, we always had a guarantee that Germany, balancing between values and prices, would opt for values. Except for one case, which is Nord Stream 2 (it would be too costly for Germany). So there's nothing new in the latest statements. However, whenever Ukraine voices no demands or requests, when officials tell that all's fine, we can't expect adequate action on the part of our partners.
Volodymyr Zelensky personally insulted Angela Merkel, twice
Unfortunately, Ukrainian authorities have done everything possible to leave Germany less incentive to focus on values, offering more opportunities to focus on prices.
It should be borne in mind that Volodymyr Zelensky personally insulted Angela Merkel, twice (at least she took it as an insult). This is about Zelensky's phone call with Donald Trump where Zelensky said Europe wasn't helping Ukraine in any way, unlike America. That was despite Germany being at that time a true lobbyist of Ukraine support in the EU. The second insult struck when the Ukrainian president expressed hope France's Emmanuel Macron would do everything for Ukraine, forgetting that France had never played the first violin in the game against Russia. Therefore, it was Zelensky's own moves that led Merkel to a meeting snub. It was only after talking with Joe Biden that she changed her mind...
Another problem is that Zelensky started compromising the Normandy Four concept. After all, previously, discussions about the wrong essence of this format for Ukraine and the need to search for other types of platforms did exist, but were never initiated by top leadership. Moreover, when it comes to the Budapest 2 format, a certain Russian narrative is heard between the lines that such format could envisage anything but Germany's participation. And this could become a strike out of Merkel insults.
It is difficult to count on any kind of special support, especially from a country with such a colossal conflict of interest as Germany
Therefore, now Minister Maas, coming out with his statement, said nothing extraordinary. But the last word has always remained with Chancellor. Today, however, it is difficult to expect any significant support from Germany.
Besides what's already been mentioned, this is also due to Ukraine's general behavior. When Kyiv has been telling for six months that the truce is in place and there's nothing to worry about, that there's no problem with Moscow, this led Berlin, quite expectedly, to focus on their problems with the Kremlin, trying to resolve them. Then, when a Russian threat loomed over Ukraine, the whole world scrambled to address it, while Ukrainian authorities didn't seem to worry much, with the president flying on a working trip to Qatar… And then, when huge pressure was put on Russia, forcing it to make a U-turn, Ukraine leaders, instead of fairly thanking the international community, are telling stories claiming it was all due to their own efforts...
It is difficult to count on any kind of special support, especially from a country with such a colossal conflict of interest as Germany.
Moreover, it is worth keeping in mind the upcoming change of government in Germany. The main candidate for Chancellor, incidentally, is skeptical about the future of Ukraine's Euro-Atlantic integration. That's her opinion. It can be changed, too, but someone has to be working on that. Unfortunately, nothing is being done in this regard, it seems. Everything seems to be going with the flow – or rather, down the slope. And that slope is not in Ukraine's direction. Therefore, Ukraine is facing an objective threat of losing Germany as an active participant in negotiation processes and a lobbyist in Europe.
Taras Chornovil is a Ukrainian political analyst