Geopolitical Gravitas

Merkel, Seeking Middle Ground, Sends Right Signals in Kiev Visit

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  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Germany and Europe have much to lose if the Ukraine crisis worsens. But Berlin can improve economic ties with Ukraine and not alienate Russia.

  • Facts


    • Chancellor Merkel visited Kiev on Saturday, pledging €500 million in reconstruction credit guarantees.
    • The German leader said her country opposed Ukraine’s request to join NATO.
    • Ms. Merkel, an East German who speaks Russian, is one of the few Western leaders with contact to Vladimir Putin.
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German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrived in Kiev with nearly empty hands on Saturday – that is, if you consider all Ukraine wants at the moment is economic aid and weapons. In both cases, she didn’t fulfill her host’s wishes on her first visit to the Ukrainian capital since the outbreak of conflict with Russia.

Instead of direct financial aid to the war-torn country, Ms. Merkel pledged €500 million ($690 million), mostly in credit guarantees for reconstruction projects in eastern Ukraine.

It was the right approach, however, since she is the only western politician who still gets a hearing from the Kremlin with any regularity. Admittedly, that’s barely changed Russian President Vladimir Putin’s actions, but cutting this line of communication would be careless.

Ms. Merkel is following a policy she set during the 2008 military conflict between Russia and the former Soviet state Georgia. Back then, she didn’t back Georgia’s bid for membership in the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and last weekend, she did not back that for Ukraine either.

No one in the West is prepared to go to war for Ukraine, so we cannot offer the illusion of giving NATO protection to former Soviet republics.

Mr. Putin has not honored this accommodation, however. And the policy is an accommodation to Mr. Putin because the West chooses which countries to admit to NATO. The Russian president still asserts that admitting Ukraine to NATO would threaten Russia. So far Germany’s restraint has achieved little. The position is correct nevertheless.

That’s because it is honest. No one in the West is prepared to go to war for Ukraine, so we cannot offer the illusion of giving NATO protection to former Soviet republics. The signal that Ms. Merkel made with her Kiev visit is all the more important: Germany is standing politically on Ukraine’s side in a crisis that has so far left more than 2,000 dead and 5,000 wounded, according to the United Nations.

With that, Ms. Merkel also strengthens the new Ukrainian president, Petro Poroschenko, who was chosen by an absolute majority in elections. He is following an acceptable reform agenda and must persuade voters again in new elections in October.

The German government must improve economic relations to help Ukraine.  German chambers of commerce in Kiev must be freed to deepen German-Ukrainian economic ties. The European Union must open its markets to Ukrainian products. Ukrainian manufacturers must be supported.

And German companies must be encouraged to make investments there.

The writer is an international correspondent for Handelsblatt. He can be reached at

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