Anka Feldhusen, Germany’s Ukrainian-speaking ambassador in Kyiv who first came to the country in 1994, is well aware of the current disappointment in Ukraine with Germany.
The two big reasons are clear.
First, Germany pushed ahead with the $11 billion, 1,230-kilometer Nord Stream 2 pipeline that — coupled with the existing line — doubles to 110 billion cubic meters the amount of natural gas that Russia can annually send directly to Germany via the Baltic Sea route.
Even before the pipeline has become operational, it’s clear that critics of the project have valid points: The Kremlin is using its stranglehold over European energy supplies to restrict gas exports and reduce the amount sent through Ukraine’s land-based pipelines, historically the main gas transit route from Russia to Europe.
The consequences are record-high gas prices as winter is approaching, leading Russia’s Gazprom to pressure Europe to quickly certify Nord Stream 2 for operations.
Russian President Vladimir Putin, by deriding Ukraine’s gas transit pipelines as inefficient and polluting, has clearly signaled little interest in sending gas through Ukraine after the current agreement expires at the end of 2024.
Meanwhile, Kremlin-friendly governments, like the one led by Hungarian autocrat Viktor Orban, are signing long-term contracts to receive Russian gas that also bypasses Ukraine entirely, through such pipelines as TurkStream.
Perhaps most crippling of all, Germany’s support of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline has likely destroyed the possibility of meaningful Western sanctions against the Kremlin to get Putin to call off his eight-year war against Ukraine, which has left the nation bloodied and dismembered — with Russia in control of 7% of Ukraine’s territory.
Wounding Kyiv’s feelings, even more, was U. S. President Joe Biden’s refusal to sanction the Nord Stream 2 parent company or its CEO — seen by many in Kyiv as America choosing Germany over Ukraine.
That leads to a second major grievance against Berlin: The passivity and uselessness, to date anyway, of the Normandy Four peace talks, which Germany leads along with France, in attempting to convince the Kremlin to end its war against Ukraine.
In the face of these related and stinging disappointments from the Ukrainian point of view, Feldhusen insisted in a Kyiv Post interview ahead of the Oct. 3 German Unity Day holiday that her nation will always support Ukraine and will never give up trying to get Russia to end its war. Nothing in the Sept. 26 federal elections in Germany, she said, will alter her nation’s fundamental foreign policy principles.
Berlin is ‘most reliable’
“Having lived here for so long, I understand the Ukrainian ‘disappointment,’” she said. “Yet Germany has been the most steadfast, most reliable and most sustainable partner of Ukraine since 2014.”
Germany has also, among European nations, invested the most in Ukraine’s development and, under the leadership of outgoing Chancellor Angela Merkel, has “worked hard to keep” European sanctions, such as they are, against Russia.
Germany is also, Feldhusen said, keenly aware of Russia’s unending aggression.
“There’s no spring in German-Russian bilateral relations now,” she said. “Things haven’t gotten any better. I would argue that more and more illusions have been lost with the ongoing war in Ukraine, with the Russian unwillingness to come to any compromise on the Minsk agreements.”
The Minsk agreements she referred to came after Ukraine’s two biggest battlefield losses, in Ilovaisk in 2014 and again in Debaltseve in 2015. While the agreements require Russia to withdraw from the eastern Donbas region, the Kremlin falsely insists that it is not prosecuting the war — that the conflict is a domestic Ukrainian one and that it is simply upholding the rights of Russian language speakers there.
To the contrary, the incontestable facts are that the Kremlin is firmly in control, directing the war, and giving out Russian passports by the hundreds of thousands to residents there.
On Nord Stream 2, Feldhusen said that “I again understand the Ukrainian disappointment.” She acknowledged that “the political scene in Berlin has realized way too late that it has upset partners, not only Ukraine, but European partners.”
She said that the certification process to complete Nord Stream 2 should take at least another seven months. She said that Germany will, in any case, remain committed to helping ensure that Ukraine is a transit country for Russian natural gas after its current agreement with Moscow — requiring at least 40 billion cubic meters of gas to go through Ukraine yearly — ends after 2024. The five-year deal will bring Ukraine at least $7 billion in transit fees.
Sanctions will stay
“German foreign policy vis-a-vis Russia will not change as long as Russia is violating international law and international rules by continuing the annexation of Crimea and by continuing the war in the Donbas,” the ambassador said. “There will be sanctions. We will continue to work in the Normandy format and on the Minsk agreements to try to push Russia again and again to implement those. We haven’t been successful in these past years, but we will continue.”
As for the spike in gas prices, she did not rule out Kremlin mischief. But she said that, as the coronavirus pandemic has subsided, demand has increased — especially in Asia — which is getting some of the supply that would have gone to Europe.
Rather than cry over spilled milk, Feldhusen said Ukraine should focus on a future of green energy. In doing so, Kyiv will find Berlin to be a supportive partner. Germany, which decided in 2011 to phase out nuclear power, plans to — by 2045 at the latest — also stop using natural gas as it makes the conversion to renewable energy.
“Gas is only a bridge until Germany will get out of carbon-based energy altogether,” she said.
Green hydrogen future?
She said it’s better if Ukraine also gets ahead of the curve by becoming a producer and exporter of green energy rather than a transit country for carbon-based fuel — a status, she said, that will always leave the country dependent on external forces.
She said that Ukraine has great potential in producing and exporting green hydrogen.
“I am optimistic that we will find a way to make Ukraine one of Europe’s biggest hydrogen producers,” she said, noting the launch of a German-funded Green Energy Fund to help Ukraine’s transition to clean energy. “Germany will be one of the largest importers of hydrogen very soon. We do want to work with a number of countries. Ukraine is the one we’re most interested in.”
Green hydrogen is produced by splitting water using electricity generated from low-carbon sources, but the price of production is prohibitively high now. Potentially, however, Ukraine could transit hydrogen for export using the pipeline network that currently transports natural gas.
Germany is helping Ukraine in other ways on the energy front, including the phase-out of coal mining.
As to whether Germany made a mistake by disavowing nuclear power by 2022, Feldhusen said that the long life of radioactive waste makes nuclear energy more dangerous, even though it’s a carbon-free source of energy today.
On other issues, she said that Germany is moving closer to spending 2% of its gross domestic product on defense to meet the guidelines of NATO, to which Germany belongs. She defended her comments that as long as Russia keeps up its war against Ukraine, Kyiv will not be welcomed into NATO by all 30 members. She said she was simply stating reality.
With more than 2,000 German businesses in Ukraine and trade topping $7 billion annually, the bilateral ties run deep.
As someone who started coming to Ukraine 27 years ago, she said “the country has changed incredibly. It’s more modern. It’s nicer to live in, not only for foreigners but for many Ukrainians. Services are better. It’s going in the right direction.”
No. 1 problem
But the same major problem remains — the lack of rule of law, which is holding back Ukraine’s development. “Judicial reform is the most important reform. We are going to watch closely so that even if it goes slowly, it goes in the right direction.”
She’s hopeful about Ukraine’s overall progress, not least because the nation’s civil society is forcing positive change. “They’re highlighting every problem,” she said. “Ukrainian politicians are not going to get away with bad things any longer.”
The West, she said, is not calling the shots in Ukraine, contrary to Putin’s complaints that Kyiv’s politicians are under “external control.” She said sometimes Ukraine’s political leaders take their advice and “sometimes not.” Either way, she said, Germany is “in Ukraine for the long haul, as we have been since its independence in 1991.”
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