https://www.dw.com/-Hardly a day passes in Kyiv without visits from top-level leaders from the EU and US. The French president and Germany’s foreign minister were both there recently, with little to show for it. And more talks are planned.
Macron and Baerbock hailed the mere continuation of talks as a success
“As long as foreign leaders are in Kyiv for talks, Putin can’t possibly launch an invasion,” ordinary Ukrainians will tell you, a sentiment often delivered with a hopeful smile.
Certainly, the unprecedented flurry of diplomatic activity in recent weeks does sometimes feel like a desperate attempt to buy time in the crisis around the Russian buildup of troops along Ukraine’s borders, by talking, about anything and everything — however slim the chances of making progress.
Within the space of just a few days this past week, Ukraine’s capital played host to leaders from the United Kingdom, Turkey, Poland and the Netherlands. So relentless was the onslaught of foreign dignitaries that Dutch Prime Minister Rutte’s visit was reportedly postponed by a day to make way for UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
All came to Kyiv with promises of weapons for the country’s military and strong words of warning for Moscow. Ukrainian presidents used to complain about too little attention for their country and its standoff with Russia; now, it seems like a little too much for comfort.
But the position of the European Union’s most influential member states, France and Germany, has been far less clear-cut. Ukrainian leaders fear that Paris and Berlin will prove less willing to throw their weight behind Kyiv, and more likely to cut a deal with Moscow at Ukraine’s expense.
Friction with Germany
German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock arrived in Ukraine for the second time in the space of a month. This comes against a backdrop of growing tensions between the two countries, both over Germany’s refusal to provide Ukraine with lethal weapons and to impose preemptive sanctions on Russia’s Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.
At least in public, Baerbock had little in the way of new initiatives to offer her Ukrainian hosts: no road map to de-escalation beyond a commitment to get Russia and Ukraine back to the negotiating table.
Why those talks would now succeed, after years of deadlock, she failed to explain, instead hailing the resumption of technical talks as a success in and of itself.
‘You can count on us’
Short on concrete policy announcements, the public part of her visit was focused on underscoring Germany’s commitment to Ukraine and trying to regain lost goodwill.
In Kyiv and on her visit to the front lines in Donbass, Baerbock repeatedly made the point that Ukraine could rely on Germany — although she failed to spell out the details her Ukrainian audience clearly expected.
Rather than clarify what it would take for Berlin to impose sanctions against the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, Baerbock made mention of “unprecedented” sanctions Germany would impose on Russia in the event of invasion, and repeated how Germany would be willing to pay a “high price” in terms of its own economic ties with Russia.
The latter constituted a response to criticism leveled against German foreign policy in recent weeks, accusing the industrial heavyweight of prioritizing economic interests with Russia over solidarity with Ukraine.
Expectations in Kyiv were particularly high since Baerbock’s Green Party has in recent years been both more critical of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project and also more hawkish on Russia than any other in the Bundestag.
The sticky subject of German weapons
What was missing was the subject most eagerly expected by Ukrainian observers: Kyiv’s renewed request for the delivery of lethal weapons.
This topic had gained particular emotional weight after Germany’s offer of 5,000 helmets was widely ridiculed in Ukraine.
Baerbock steered clear of the issue, making no attempt to restate the German government position on sending arms to conflict zones. Instead, she visited a military hospital in Kyiv that has received extensive German funding, in a nod to Germany’s offer to provide further medical assistance to Ukraine’s military in place of weapons.
In contrast to Germany, the UK has provided military aid to Ukraine
French President Emmanuel Macron arrived in Kyiv the following day on his return from Moscow.
The French and Russian leaders had taken very different messages away from their marathon one-on-one meetings: Macron left Moscow apparently confident that he had basic agreement from Vladimir Putin not to send further troops to Ukraine’s borders nor to launch a military intervention, and to withdraw Russian forces from Belarus after current exercises end.
This was then publicly contradicted by a Kremlin spokesman. No such commitment had been given and any future deal would only be made with the United States, the implication being that even France — the European Union’s only country with nuclear weapons — is nowhere near equal to Russia.
Like Baerbock before him, the only tangible development Macron was able to cite was Russia’s willingness to return to talks on the conflict in Donbass in the so-called Normandy format under Franco-German mediation.
Ukraine fears painful concessions
Looking at this situation from Kyiv, it seems a win-win resolution to this crisis that both Ukraine and Russia could accept does not exist.
Either Russia will be convinced to back down by the threat of massive sanctions at considerable risk to Putin’s credibility, or Ukraine will be pressured into fulfilling Russia’s demands at the risk of massive domestic backlash.
For now, neither side seems willing to compromise. But many in Kyiv are convinced that, sooner or later, Western countries will pile on the pressure on Ukraine.
Edited by: Sonya Diehn