Modern Diplomacy
Germany and Ukraine

On February 15, 2022, Olaf Scholz made his first visit to Moscow as Chancellor of Germany. Despite the fact that a significant part of the time in the negotiations with the President of Russia was devoted to the situation in the South-East of Ukraine, the leaders of Russia and Germany also discussed the prospects for the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, the trade balance, economic indicators, and interaction between non-government organisations. The chancellor laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Against the backdrop of a rather cold visit to Russia by German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock a few weeks earlier, Scholz's trip looked like a step towards normalising the stalled Russian-German dialogue.

Today, this episode is remembered as an already-turned page in the history of German diplomacy. The escalation of the Ukrainian crisis in February 2022 changed Germany and its politics. Obeying the principles of the transatlantic consensus, Berlin launched a process that would force the collapse of its ties with Russia in politics, economics and civil society. To replace them, German politicians prioritised support for Kiev, including through the supply of weapons. Germany’s foreign policy relations with Ukraine became the lever by which Germany decided to change its place in Europe, not always realising the costs of these changes.

Since 2014, Germany has been considered one of the key states supporting Ukraine in its pursuit for Euro-Atlantic integration. Berlin took an active part in the painful change of power in Kiev in 2013-2014. Unlike American diplomats, representatives of the FRG did not strive for demonstrative publicity; however, de facto they carried out large-scale work to strengthen their positions in a country defined by its internal contradictions. At the Minsk format talks, Angela Merkel defended the position of the entire West and looked convincing in this role. The diplomatic efforts of the chancellor were developed by German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, whose "formula" was designed to move the implementation of the Minsk agreements off the ground.

Germany acted as one of Kiev’s main sources of financial assistance. In 2014-2021 Berlin has spent 1.83 billion euros on Ukraine’s civil sector. German consultants worked in Ukraine as an economic profile representing law enforcement agencies: the Bundeswehr and the police  . Student exchange programmes and the development of NGOs were expanded.
By providing financial and advisory support to Ukraine, Berlin often contributed to its deliberate avoidance of compliance with the Minsk agreements.

Thus, with the knowledge and control of German experts, the decentralisation reform was transformed into a reform of local governments. As Georg Milbradt, special envoy of the German government for decentralisation reform, stated : "Decentralisation in no way means separatism or federalisation." In addition, this reform was considered  by the German side as a "countermodel" in relation to Russia, aimed at long-term changes.

  In other words, in 2014-2022, Germany actively increased its political and economic influence in Ukraine. This influence was not absolute and was in competition with other Western players, primarily with the United States and the states of Eastern Europe. However, the leading role of Germany in the EU and the relative geographical proximity of the two states, as well as rich experience in working with soft power tools, gave Berlin certain advantages in Ukraine.

The government of Olaf Scholz, which began working in December 2021, intended to continue Angela Merkel's legacy in Ukraine. However, the growing tension in the Donbass forced Berlin to resort to new approaches in the spirit of crisis management. Germany became one of the first states to evacuate its embassy from Kiev to Lvov. Despite being barely settled in the chancellor's office, Olaf Scholz joined the diplomatic carousel of European politicians. In that spirit, he became the last Western head of state to visit Moscow before the start of the Special Military Operation.

One of the central questions that Scholz tried to resolve was the fate of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. Continuing the course of his predecessor, the new chancellor initially opposed possible sanctions on the pipeline. However, under mounting pressure, Berlin began to show hesitation on this sensitive issue. Scholz's evasiveness at a press conference during his visit to Washington caused analysts to speculate about the true position of the chancellor regarding Nord Stream-2. A similar effect was observed after his Moscow visit.
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The start of the Special Military Operation, despite the alarmism of the German media, was a surprise to German politicians. While it had a plan of action prepared in the event of a military escalation in the Donbass, Berlin regarded it as unlikely and did not seek to develop every detail of its response. As a result, clearly thought out measures were combined with chaotic improvisation, the outcome of which is still unclear.

The speed with which decisions were made to freeze the implementation of the Nord Stream 2 project indicates that Berlin resigned itself to such a prospect at the latest after the Washington talks between Scholz and Biden. The multibillion-dollar project, for which German politicians and businessmen had fought for many years, was stopped in a matter of days. The “cancellation” of the gas pipeline was accompanied by a demonstrative attack on the government of the federal state of Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, which was even forced to break off its partnership ties with Russia Leningrad Region; this was clearly an excessive emotional step.

Another pre-arranged measure was a change in German defence policy. On February 27, in his speech to the deputies of the Bundestag, Olaf Scholz called for the creation of a special 100 billion euro fund for the development of the Bundeswehr and announced the supply of weapons to Ukraine. In doing so, the chancellor cracked the problematic topics of German internal political discussion, leaving behind Germany’s post-war traditions of pacifism.
The predetermined nature of the remilitarisation of the German foreign policy strategy under the influence of the Ukrainian crisis raises many questions about the consequences of this step. First of all, they concern the real readiness of Berlin to use the nation’s armed forces as an instrument of its foreign policy. The structure of the spending of the special defence fund determines the future of the Bundeswehr as an army capable of performing tasks in remote regions of the world.
In the context of the deep integration of the German army into NATO structures, the prospect of using it as an active strike force of the alliance in accordance with its goals and objectives arises.

Germany, as expected, has become one of the key destinations for Ukrainian refugees. According to official data, about 400 thousand Ukrainians have arrived in the country, but even German officials are forced to admit that their real number is much higher. The situation hearkens back to the migration crisis of 2015, both as an example and a counter-example of Germany’s hospitality policy. Despite the efforts of the local and regional authorities of Germany, many refugees were disappointed with the conditions of their detention. At the same time, people from Africa and the Middle East were outraged by the demonstrative hospitality towards Ukrainians, seeing it as a manifestation of racism against them.

The scale of German-Ukrainian cooperation in 2014-2022 led to inflated expectations in Kiev regarding FRG as a source of financial and military assistance. Ukrainian politicians were annoyed by the “slowness” of Berlin, leading them to suspect secret Russian-German agreements. The insulting remarks Ukraine’s Ambassador to Germany Andriy Melnyk made to the Federal Chancellor and the President almost caused a major internal political crisis in Germany.

The escalation of the Ukrainian crisis in February 2022 is comparable for Germany in its consequences to the Korean War of 1950-1953. Then in Bonn they were sure that the GDR, with the assistance of Soviet troops, could launch an armed invasion of its western neighbour, analogous to what was happening on the Korean Peninsula. This prompted the German elites to intensify the process of integration into Western security structures and justify to Washington, London and Paris the need to recreate the German army. As a result, Germany became one of the key NATO member states with its own combat-ready armed forces, which served as one of the main constants of the Cold War on the European continent and formalised the German split for decades to come.

Today, the German leadership seeks to use the events in Ukraine to reverse the trend towards the demilitarisation of Germany, which has developed in the post-bipolar era. The specificity of the present moment lies in the absence of phobias regarding a re-armed Germany, both among its neighbours and within the country itself. On the contrary, the request for the German defence potential has been updated in an unprecedented way. This is one of the most important implications of the Ukrainian crisis for Berlin.

The growth of Russophobic sentiments in Germany and the EU has led to a partial "flow" of the ideological content of Russian-German relations into German-Ukrainian ones. A number of formats of Russian-German interaction, especially regarding NGOs, at the initiative of the German side, have shifted their work to favour Ukrainian organisations. Ukraine has come to replace “cancelled” Russia in the German socio-political space as an ersatz of the diversity of cultural and historical phenomena which stretches from the Dnieper to the Pacific Ocean. The Russian-German dialogue, in those parts where it is still ongoing, is being “Ukrainianized” both at the expense of the topics and its participants.

The Ukraine crisis in its current stage is an important test for German foreign policy in terms of goal setting. The development of the situation is pushing Berlin towards unconditional transatlantic solidarity, which requires internal discipline of a new quality. At the same time, this movement has been accompanied by significant economic losses due to sanctions policy and rising energy prices. So far, the German government has nothing to offer its citizens other than austerity measures. Several lost regional elections in a row are signalling to the Social Democrats that finding the right balance between national and bloc interests will not be easy.

Of course, Berlin will continue its unconditional support for Kiev, avoiding reservations and semitones. The sensitive topic of radical nationalism in Ukraine will be ignored or reduced to Zelensky’s “they are what they are” formula. The comparative moderation of the German approach to the diplomatic resolution of the crisis, in contrast, for example, to the belligerence of London, indicates a desire to reduce the costs of the sanctions confrontation and preserve the remnants of Ukraine's economic potential, in which German businessmen have invested heavily.

As before, Germany does not have a golden share in the rapidly failing Ukrainian enterprise. Olaf Scholz’s visit to Kiev, along with his counterparts from France, Italy and Romania, did not shake the desire of Kiev politicians to regain control over Crimea and Donbass by military means. The course towards strengthening transatlantic unity will reduce the room for manoeuvre for German politicians in Ukraine and Eastern Europe. Even if Berlin's call for a truce is heard, the sad experience of the Minsk agreements weakens its position as a mediator and guarantor of a solution to the crisis.
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It remains a mystery to the public how the government will carry out the rearmament, how it will affect the German military-industrial complex and what kind of equipment will be purchased from partners. The Chancellor’s silence irritates voters: already more than 60% of Germans consider Scholz to be an insufficient leader.
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