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10th Dec 2018

Germany and Russia threaten EU-Ukraine relations

  • Independence Square, Kiev - the scene of the 2004 Orange Revolution, when Ukraine broke away from the Russian sphere. (Photo: wikipedia)

Germany's close relations with Russia are the main obstacle to signing a major EU-Ukraine treaty at the upcoming EU-Ukraine summit in France, Ukraine diplomats say, warning that failure to seal the deal will signal to Moscow that it can veto EU policy on post-Soviet states.

"There are maybe two or three countries who are strong opposers, strong sceptics," Ukrainian deputy foreign minister Konstantin Yeliseyev said in Brussels on Thursday (28 August), commenting on EU reluctance to state clearly that "the future of Ukraine lies in the European Union" in the preamble to the new treaty.

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"In this regard, we count very much on the leadership of Germany, which is the engine of EU integration and a very powerful country, we count very much on their courage," he added, saying EU explanations - such as lack of formal consensus among the 27 states or public enlargement fatigue - are "not sincere."

"Some other countries like Belgium are also opposed. But Berlin is the key," another Ukraine official said, with just 12 days left to go before the summit in Evian, France. "They are telling us the chancellory is talking to the foreign ministry and so forth, but no matter what they say, the real problem is Russia."

Germany and Russia have historically close relations, with former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder currently working to help build a new Germany-Russia gas pipeline and with the current chancellor, Angela Merkel, opposing EU diplomatic sanctions against Russia despite Russia's actions in Georgia.

The statement on EU enlargement is a deal-breaker for Ukraine, which says that if Germany's preferred wording - that the new treaty "does not prejudge future relations" - is used, it will effectively rule out any Ukraine moves toward EU accession for the next 10 to 15 years, when the pact is due to expire.

Ukraine is also pressing for NATO countries to offer it a Membership Action Plan in December, with Germany also leading opposition at NATO-level to such a move. Mr Yeliseyev warned that lack of a clear political commitment by the West to Ukraine will be seen by Moscow as a green light to expand influence in the east.

"If the [EU-Ukraine] summit is not successful ... it will send encouragement to Russia that it can influence EU policy and EU strategy," he said. "If NATO members don't take this decision, it will show Russia that by using force, they can influence the process of enlargement and obtain a kind of domination of the post-Soviet states."

The deputy minister underlined that Ukraine sees the EU as a guardian of economic and political stability, in contrast to NATO's hard security role. "We consider NATO as a father and the EU as a mother. With a father it's mostly physical protection, security protection. With a mother it is mostly economic protection," he said.

Mr Yeliseyev explained that the Russia-Georgia war has raised security concerns in Ukraine due to the situation in Crimea, where 60 percent of inhabitants are ethnically Russian and where Russia keeps its Black Sea fleet, which was used against Georgia, making Ukraine a "third party to this conflict."

"If Ukrainian security detorirated, it would not be a Georgia scenario, it would be a more dangerous scenario," he said, with the 50 million-strong, former nuclear power currently controlling most of Russia's natural gas exports to the EU.

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