Ukraine-Germany: How to Turn Situational Partnership into Priority One

12:03 PM 9-2-2016

The Institute of World Policy has presented an analytical paper “Ukraine-Germany Relations: How to Turn Situational Partnership into Priority One”.The analysis is a part of IWP new ambitious initiative “Ukraine’s Foreign Policy Audit” that will cover Ukraine’s relations with its strategic partners. As a result, IWP will prepare concrete recommendations to revised Ukraine’s Foreign Policy Strategy.


Alyona Getmanchuk, Director of the World Policy Institute
Sergiy Solodkyy, Deputy Director of the IWP

Relations between Ukraine and Germany have been on some sort of probation: over the last two years, the two countries have discovered many opportunities to bring the bilateral relations to a new level. However, there are even more obstacles able to hinder the formation of totally different kind of relations. During this time, Ukraine has to demonstrate the very things that the Germans appreciate in partnership with other countries: ability to adhere to clear rules and ability to fulfill its obligations.
It is still unknown whether it is possible to turn the situational partnership, established between Kyiv and Berlin, into priority one and at least bring it closer to strategic one. That requires efforts from both sides. The action plan for Ukrainian issues, developed by the German Government and coordinated by Federal Foreign Office of Germany, as well as the position paper developed by the foreign policy wing of the ruling CDU/CSU party, are the first steps towards developing a future strategy for dealing with Ukraine, and Kyiv should be totally interested in confirmation and implementation of both of them.
In order to influence this process, Ukraine requires a proactive stance with elements of strategic vision, as today Berlin does not fully understand whether Kyiv is seriously interested in investing in their relations with Germany, and not just using the latter tactically to counter Russian aggression.
Currently, on the credit side of cooperation between Ukraine and Germany are the fact that Ukrainian dossier remains among the top priorities of the Federal Chancellor’s office and intensive political dialogue, which was made possible by the involvement of Berlin in cessation of hostilities and conflict resolution in Eastern Ukraine. However, the level of trust between the leaders of both countries currently depends on the level of Ukraine’s readiness to fulfill their commitments within the framework of the Minsk process.
Whether the new German policy towards Ukraine will follow a separate track and won’t be subordinate to Germany’s policy towards Russia, depends in no small part on Ukraine itself. The “Russia first” policy has been seriously questioned recently; however, given the cooperative and not confrontational nature of German foreign policy, the chances of its revival are still strong.
Germany still shows consensus regarding the fact that German foreign policy is actually European policy. Berlin will not be able to act only according to their own preferences; in order to avoid further self-blocking within the EU, they will have to take into account the positions of other member states, especially France.
Kyiv formulates the key general interest of Ukraine in Germany as follows: to do everything possible in order to ensure that in the medium term, Ukrainian political dossier remains among Berlin’s priorities and eventually acquires the economic dimension through arrival and solidification of strategic German investors in various sectors of Ukrainian economy1. Among other interests are Germany’s role in ensuring European unity on the critical issues related to Ukraine and support (including financial) for reforms in Ukraine.
Generally speaking, Germany’s interests in Ukraine articulated by our German partners are as follows:
1) deterring the conflict in Eastern Ukraine, as it could undermine the stability of other regions of Ukraine;
2) prevention of destabilizing and disintegrating processes in Ukraine, as well as a dramatic deterioration of the socio-economic conditions;
3) consolidation of Ukraine, both politically and through reforms, as Ukraine’s future depends on its internal transformations;
4) supporting Ukraine’s European integration as the most powerful tool of transformation of the country

Symptomatically, while Ukraine’s interests in Germany are clearly dominated by economic factor, the interests of Germany are not, despite the traditionally strong geo-economic emphasis in German policies towards other countries. German strategies towards many countries around the world have been built around economic, not security interests for years.
At the same time, there is a clear convergence of interests in terms of the transformation of Ukraine in the process of European integration. After signing and ratification of the Association Agreement and entry into force of the Free Trade Area with the EU, the process of European integration has become inevitable for Ukraine. However, the European capitals, particularly Berlin, still question the irreversibility of this process. For the Germans, unlike many Ukrainians, European integration vector is not a geopolitical, but modernization project. Some levels of government show lack of awareness on the fact that Ukraine will have to be dealt with not on ad hoc basis, but on a regular one. It is obvious that development of a Ukrainian version of “Partnership for modernization” (the policy that has failed on Russia) would make sense.
The new opportunities also lie in the fact that Ukraine has emerged from the so-called blind zone for both German politicians and the whole German society. Before the Euromaidan, German elites viewed Ukraine as just another post-Soviet poor country with a penchant for authoritarianism, unclear priorities, catastrophically corrupt political elites and the dominance of oligarchs. The Euromaidan has been successful in convincing at least a part of the German establishment that Ukrainians are eager to change the situation. German leaders seek to support Ukrainian efforts; the question is, how far is Berlin willing to go with that support?
The opportunities are also accompanied by risks. Germany is increasingly distracted by internal problems (especially by the refugee crisis). However, Berlin devotes even more attention to the issues related to efficient functioning of the whole European Union (primarily the Greek crisis, but soon the referendum on UK’s exit from the EU might divert even more attention). Very soon, all German politicians will immerse into the election process, which would push Ukrainian issues into background: first, due to the important elections in five German states in 2016, and then, in view of the parliamentary elections in 2017. Moreover, one should not underestimate the strong Russian lobby in Germany, and the pressure from a part of German business willing to restore the status quo in relations with Russia.
In the medium term, the interest towards Ukraine in Germany could be maintained at a high level with two conditions. The first is a pessimistic one: if the security situation in the region deteriorates, and the conflict between Ukraine and Russia escalates. Without a doubt, under such conditions, Ukraine would become at least one of the three priorities of German foreign policy. Obviously, such a scenario is not desirable for both Kyiv and Berlin. The second one is an optimistic one: Ukraine demonstrates sheer miracle of reforms and fighting corruption, and German politicians use the example of Ukraine as their own achievement, a kind of master card. There are also alternative scenarios: according to them, Ukraine is expected to return into the category of important, but not priority Eastern periphery of Europe. Allowing such a development is against the interests of Ukraine.
The major irritant in relations between Kyiv and Berlin is the issue of Ukraine’s integration into the NATO. In Germany, there is a consensus that Ukraine’s integration into the NATO would be a destructive policy. Moreover, that attitude is shared by German citizens: German public opinion beats all possible negative records, compared to other NATO member states. For instance, 57% of the Germans oppose Ukraine’s accession into the Alliance, while even in France, 55% of respondents support that step.
Obviously, there is a need for a new level of dialogue in the security and defense sector. Currently, Ukraine and Germany are both focused on strengthening their own security and are implementing intensive reforms in their armed forces. Exchanging experience in this context could, on the one hand, be useful for the transformation efforts in Ukraine, and would also create the foundation for increase in the level of mutual understanding in the security sector.
Today, Germany lacks influential politicians or opinion leaders able to reasonably explain their citizens the importance of such a step. In this context, the situation has only worsened compared to that of the Bucharest Summit in April 2008, when Ukraine and Georgia were denied the NATO Membership Action Plan. Any further claims regarding Germany’s short sight in this matter, will not force Berlin to change its position.
The objective of this policy brief is to examine the real situation in relations between Ukraine and Germany in the key areas of partnership: political, security, trade, and economic. However, the main objective is to analyze the ways of rapprochement between the two countries, the “anchors” that could bring them closer to each other; it is actually about the reconfiguration of Germany’s old foreign policy doctrine (the New Eastern Policy, or Neue Ostpolitik) into a new foreign policy program with a parallel track for Ukraine.

The full text of the paper is available here.

Also you may use this link.

The research was prepared within the IWP’s project “New European Policy: Filling the Awareness Gap”. This project is carried out within the National Initiatives to Enhance Reforms (UNITER) project, supported by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and implemented by the Pact in Ukraine. The “Ukraine’s Foreign Policy Audit” project is conducted with the support of Black Sea Trust for regional cooperation – a project of the German Marshall Fund.