Tuesday, May 01, 2012

Merkel boycotts Ukraine? Business as usual.

Germany has been boycotting Ukraine's interests for some time. --- I realise this assertion might grate with some poeple, particularly as I know and work with Germans here in Kiev who are working hard on the various civil society initiatives that Germany generously funds, but I can't get excited about Chancellor Merkel's threat to boycott the European Championships. It seems somewhat pious when one considers that Germany has not made Ukraine or Ukrainians' lives very easy in the past couple of years. Germany sees itself in all things as a benign actor, but the reality is rather different. --- Go back to 2008, when Germany made it absolutely clear that its relations with Russia were more important than the security of those countries sandwiched between them. For Ukraine and Georgia, that meant an effective veto of Russia, a non-member, over their bid for NATO MAPs. Go back further, and it was her predecessor Schröder who signed up to Nord Stream, a game-changer in the energy security geopolitics of the region which greatly undermines the position of Ukraine. German EU commissioner Günter Verheugen quipped that the idea of Ukraine joining the EU was as absurd as that of Mexico joining the United States. More recently, German police arrested and jailed a group of Ukrainian tourists on a two day visit to Germany on their one year Polish Schengen visas. They were released without apology. Apparently, quite absurdly, they should have gone and cancelled their one year visas and got two day tourist visas. The Schengen system isn't working, but it is Germany's job to work that out, rather than to label all Ukrainians as undesirables. What kind of message does that send? --- The boycott threat is of course not made in such a wide context, but is part of the current political game. Some kind of a statement does need to be made. It also recognises that there is indeed something deeply unpalatable about Holland v Germany being played, and beers being guzzled on Kharkiv's Ploshcha Svobody, just a stone's throw from Europe's most high profile political prisoner (the authorities have already moved her once, and may conceivably do so again in a feeble attempt to minimise such embarrassment). Perhaps Merkel is doing the right thing, but against the wrong things which preceded it it looks less impressive. Germany should in fact, albeit indirectly, accept some responsibility for what has happened here since 2010. --- As one leading commentator said a couple of years back, it would have meant an awful lot if Chancellor Merkel had come to Kiev and made a speech in support of Ukraine's European ambitions. Don't forget how narrowly Tymoshenko lost the Presidential election. German endorsement of a European and Euro-Atlantic choice for Ukraine might well have been enough to swing the election for her, but instead it was held against a background of resignation, that Europe didn't want Ukraine and rapprochement with Russia was paramount. Merkel was not there for her then.

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