Angela Merkel opens Germany-Ukraine forum amid Russia row

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The chancellor is set to open a key conference aimed at deepening economic ties between Berlin and Kyiv. Ukraine has suggested that business and security go hand-in-hand, especially when regional tensions are high.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is to deliver the opening speech of the third annual German-Ukrainian economic forum in Berlin Thursday amid rising tensions between Kyiv and Russia.

Russia captured three Ukrainian vessels in the Sea of Azov, triggering a sharp escalation in warlike posturing on both sides of the conflict.

The conference, attended by Ukrainian Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman, is expected to cover local reform efforts and potential opportunities for increased economic relations between Germany and Ukraine.

But it comes hours after Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko urged Merkel to help Kyiv militarily, calling her “one of our closest allies.”

‘Assist Ukraine’

In an interview with Berlin-based Bild newspaper, Poroshenko said NATO should deploy naval vessels to the Sea of Azov to “assist Ukraine” and deter Russian military maneuvers.

Merkel is seen as a key mediator between Moscow and Kyiv. She played an instrumental role in securing ceasefire agreements between pro-Russia rebels and Ukraine in the country’s volatile eastern regions.

German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier and Eric Schweitzer, president of the Association of German Chambers of Industry and Commerce, are also scheduled to speak at the conference.

Business or security?

Earlier this month, Ukrainian Deputy Foreign Minister Olena Zerkal expressed concerns over Germany’s continued involvement in building the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which is due to open next year. The pipeline is expected to lessen German dependency on eastern European energy sources.

When asked whether Ukrainian opposition to the German-Russian pipeline was about business or security, Zerkal told DW: “For us, it’s about security, and it’s definitely not about the revenues. It’s about the guarantee of our security and the pipeline we have is a kind of guarantee for us.” She said lost revenues could amount to the cost of maintaining the country’s armed forces.

But Altmaier said the Sea of Azov crisis and Nord Stream 2 are two separate issues. He told public broadcaster ARD’s Morgenmagazin that German companies are not investing “for or against Russia” in Ukraine. “It’s about helping people. When jobs are created in Ukraine, it is very important for the people.”

ls/rt (AFP, Reuters, dpa)

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