Zelensky meets Merkel: Kiev's disappointed expectations | DW | 11.07.2021/XNUMX/XNUMX

The Ukrainian President Volodymyr Selenskyj travels to Angela Merkel in Berlin. Before their last personal meeting, Ukraine is frustrated and is hoping for a fresh start after Merkel's departure.

Angela Merkel is facing a special farewell. The outgoing Chancellor will receive the Ukrainian President Volodymyr Selenskyj in Berlin on Monday. It should be their last personal meeting. He has invited Merkel several times to come to Kiev on the 30th anniversary of independence at the end of August. Zelensky would also like to see the Chancellor at the founding conference of an international platform on Crimea. But so far there has been no confirmation for one or the other event.

Since the Russian annexation of the peninsula, Ukraine has been a country for the Chancellor that she has been intensively concerned with as a leading Western politician. But the mood before the meeting in Berlin is more clouded than it has been for a long time.

Diplomatic resentment between Berlin and Kiev

On the Ukrainian side, more and more openly displayed frustration is mixed in with the repeated expressions of gratitude. The latest move by Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron caused another one EU-Russia summit wanting to deter in Kiev for irritation. The Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba invited the ambassadors of both countries to a meeting. He spoke of an "unpleasant and surprising attack" and was satisfied that Merkel's idea was "fended off" at the EU summit.

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba

Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba

The Ukrainian ambassador in Berlin, Andrij Melnyk, boycotted a memorial event with Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the end of June on the occasion of the 80th anniversary of Hitler's Germany attack on the Soviet Union. He found the location, the German-Russian Museum in Berlin-Karlshorst, “inappropriate”. A few months earlier, Melnyk criticized Steinmeier sharply when he campaigned for the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.

Breakthrough in the dispute over Nord Stream 2?

Nord Stream 2 remains the major point of contention in Kiev-Berlin relations. Ukraine rejects the Baltic Sea project because it could lose transit fees for Russian gas and is afraid of a military escalation on the part of Russia. After the US opposed itself under the new President Joe Biden further sanctions have decided, the completion of the pipeline seems only a matter of a few months.

Construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, archive

The construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline is nearing completion

Merkel and Selenskyj are likely to speak in Berlin about how Ukraine could be protected against possible disadvantages. The media speculated about compensation, but specific details are unknown. If Merkel and Selenskyj travel to Washington in quick succession in the coming days, Nord Stream 2 should also be on the agenda. An agreement would be a breakthrough in years of dispute.

Next Normandy summit probably without Merkel

On the other hand, a breakthrough on the issue of Eastern Ukraine seems far away. Since the last one Four-way summit in the Normandy format in Paris in December 2019, the situation is deadlocked. A follow-up meeting in Berlin is still a long way off. The fighting on the front in eastern Ukraine last escalated in the spring, and dozen Ukrainian soldiers died. When Russia moved massive troops to the Ukrainian border, Merkel and Macron called for de-escalation. Moscow withdrew some of the troops. 

The Normandy format summit, December 2019

In December 2019, Zelensky, Putin, Merkel and Macron met for the last summit in Normandy format

While Zelenskyi is trying to get the US to play a stronger role in peace talks, the Russian president does not seem interested in further meetings with the Ukrainian - at least for now. Most recently, Vladimir Putin and Zelenskyi spoke separately with Merkel and Macron via video conference. “Why meet with Zelenskyi when he lets his country be administered from the outside?” Said the Kremlin chief during his public questionnaire at the end of June. "The key questions about Ukraine will not be decided in Kiev, but in Washington, partly in Berlin and Paris." Putin did not rule out a meeting with Zelensky. But there shouldn't be a Normandy summit with Chancellor Merkel.

No close personal relationships

On a personal level, the relationship between Merkel and Selenskyj is not as good as with his predecessor Petro Poroshenko, experts say. For example, before the presidential election in Ukraine, the Chancellor refused to meet the then candidate Zelenskyj while Macron was receiving him, recalls Gustav Gressel from the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR) think tank in Brussels. “There was a shadow over the personal relationships between the two. That plays a not insignificant role at Merkel, ”says Gressel. “It didn't work out so well with Zelenskyi, he doesn't seem to be exactly her type.” The Kiev foreign policy expert Olena Hetmanchuk also confirms that the relationship is “not the best”. Selenskyj is "not a comfortable partner" for Merkel.  

It is unclear whether Zelenskyi's critical remarks also played a role in this. In his public telephone conversation with then US President Donald Trump in July 2019, Zelenskyi accused Merkel and Macron of not doing enough for Ukraine. He is now repeating this message more and more often, for example in an interview with the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung at the beginning of June. Basically Ukraine is very grateful to Germany, but he “expected more”.

Zelenskyj during a troop visit to eastern Ukraine, April 2021

Zelenskyj during a troop visit to eastern Ukraine, April 2021

Especially Berlin's rejection of arms deliveries causes disappointment on the Ukrainian side. After the Greens chairman Robert Habeck had expressed himself positively, the federal government repeated its rejection. Kiev is interested in patrol boats, for example, but also in rifles and armored vehicles, Zelenskyj told the FAZ. 

Kiev hopes for a fresh start after the federal election

It is becoming increasingly clear that Kiev is preparing for the post-Angela Merkel era. It is hoped that her successor will change the German attitude on some issues. Ukraine had done enough to get “clear commitments” to the membership in the EU and NATO that it was aiming for, said Zelenkyj. "There is an expectation that Merkel could support the prospect of EU accession for Ukraine, as a kind of farewell gift," says Olena Hetmanchuk. 

It is unclear whether the Chancellor will get involved. Kiev is more likely to continue to expect restraint on the part of Berlin. The top candidates of the Union, the Greens and the SPD have expressed understanding for the Ukrainian wishes, but dampened hopes for quick changes.