How Germany Grappled With America in Munich, and Where It Leaves Ukraine

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard


The Munich conference in 2019 highlighted serious contradictions between Germany and the US. One of the controversial issues – Nord Stream-2 – directly concerns Ukraine.

But if to take a more broader look, Munich became the latest platform where the leaders of Europe continued to butt heads with the Americans. One more conflictual topic became Washington’s demand to increase the amount of contributions to NATO – the European Union doesn’t want to give more.

On the other hand, the Ukrainian president met both antagonists – both the German chancellor Angela Merkel and the Vice President of the US Michael Pence. The last meeting was especially important for Poroshenko. As “Strana” already said, Bankova Street is seeking a meeting with Donald Trump before the elections.

We tries to understand the main events of the Munich conference this year.

Uncompromising Merkel

The main statements of the forum can be considered to be Angela Merkel and Michael Pence’s speeches. We will briefly give their essence.

The chancellor, on the one hand, declared the need to maintain sanctions pressure on Russia, and on the other hand – that it is impossible to sever ties with it. This is a question of European geopolitics, said Merkel:

“We are committed to the Russia-NATO Founding Act, the negotiation thread shouldn’t be lost. From a geostrategic point of view, Europe cannot be interested in severing ties with the Russian Federation”

One more interesting phrase that was obviously addressed to Americans was heard from the chancellor. “If during the Cold war we imported large amounts of Russian gas, I don’t know why times should be so much worse today that we cannot say: Russia remains a partner,” said the leader of Germany.

From the topic “it is impossible to sever ties with Moscow”, Merkel then moved on to “Nord Stream-2”. According to her, this pipeline won’t cause any critical dependence on Russian gas supplies – after all, the gas pipeline through Ukraine will also work, which, according to the chancellor, will preserve its transit potential.

“Germany in the coming years will remain a reliable sales market in terms of natural gas, regardless when it flows from,” said Merkel, and hinted at American interest in the European gas market, because of which the US criticises “Nord Stream-2”.

In general, it turned out that practically all the speech of Angela Merkel revolved around the topic of Russia. Thus, the head of Germany expressed concern about the termination of the INF Treaty. She also spoke in favour of joining China in new negotiations on disarmament.

“Disarmament is an issue that is important for all of us. Not only the US and the Russian Federation should hold negotiations on this question, but China should also be involved in them”

said Merkel

As “Strana” already said, the position of Beijing could become the reason for the termination of this Treaty. China, not being held back by the INF Treaty, started to produce them en masse. Therefore the old agreement between the US and the USSR simply lost its meaning.

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As for the gas position of Germany – it remains unchanged. The gas pipeline from Russia must be completed. This means that Ukraine, with the loss of monopoly on transit, will have to agree on its preservation. And most likely – with Moscow, although, perhaps, through Berlin.

Demanding Pence

Pence, on the contrary, criticised Nord Stream and urged Europe to spend more money in favour of NATO.

“The United States expects every NATO member to put in place a credible plan to meet the 2 percent threshold. And, by 2024, we expect all our allies to invest 20 percent of defence spending on procurement”

he said

This is not the first such appeal that the US has made – this topic was raised even at the beginning of the presidency of Donald Trump. However, since then Europe and other members of the Alliance haven’t budged from their positions.

The same Germany promised to increase defence expenditure to only 1.5 percent by 2024. In Berlin they say that they spend a lot on humanitarian programs abroad, which prevents the development of military scenarios (and Merkel also offered a reminder about this in Munich).

However, the counterarguments of the US sounded almost in a commanding tone. “And then, I told him [a leader of a NATO country that Pence doesn’t name – ed] that when you hear President Trump ask our NATO Allies to live up to the commitments they’ve made to our common defense, that’s what we call being leader of the free world,” declared Pence.

In this phrase, as is said, everything is fine: according to the Vice-President it turns out that Europeans have to spend on NATO because Trump – the “leader of the free world” – said so.

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Pence also responded to the German chancellor concerning the Russian gas pipeline bypassing Ukraine. “The United States commends all our European partners who’ve taken a strong stand against Nord Stream 2. And we commend others to do the same,” he stated.

Iran became a separate topic for Pence. He again demanded from the European Union to join the sanctions against this country.

“The time has come for our European partners to stop undermining U.S. sanctions against this murderous revolutionary regime.  The time has come for our European partners to stand with us and with the Iranian people, our allies and friends in the region.  The time has come from our European partners to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal,” said the Vice-President.

It is known that “European partners” have already officially started the mechanism to circumvent the sanctions to protect their companies. They also don’t intend to leave the deal.

I.e., practically all the statements of Pence were made within the framework of the controversy with the European Union.

Ukraine in Munich

But Pence had no divergences concerning Ukraine. “America is with you,” he declared to Petro Poroshenko.

After a conversation with the Vice President of the United States, the Ukrainian president announced new sanctions against Russia to be implemented as early as next week. They are connected to the detention of the Ukrainian sailors.

“We carefully discussed further actions for the imposition of sanctions and to coordinate these sanctions with the sanctions of the European Union. As I said to you yesterday, we await a positive result next week,” reported Poroshenko.

He also discussed the “Azov package of sanctions” with Merkel. At the same time, he met the chancellor as a member of a delegation. And communicated with Pence in private.

With the Vice President of the United States Poroshenko spoke in English. A video was published on the Facebook page of the Ukrainian president without a translation.

However, the victorious rhetoric of the Ukrainian president was later shot down by the representatives of Austria. The Minister of Foreign Affairs of Austria Karin Kneissl stated that this concerns “soft” measures.

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“This concerns ‘soft sanctions’, i.e., these are sanctions that currently don’t concern such spheres as energy, commodity turnover, and so on, but are aimed at particular persons. Affairs are aimed, for example, at complicating the procedure of obtaining a visa or refusing to issue a visa,” said the head of the Vienna diplomacy.

It should be noted that the Ukrainian topic didn’t dominate in Munich at all. Thus, the panel discussion with Poroshenko’s participation was carried out in parallel with the topic of global warming, which gathered many more participants.

At this panel discussion the Ukrainian president made it clear that Ukraine won’t change its tactics in Donbass.

“We must learn to live in this new reality. If there is no unity and solidarity, then the aggressor can go further. (It is considered that) if the Russian Federation stops shooting, then peace will come. But if Ukraine stops shooting, then Ukraine will no longer exist” stated Poroshenko.

It is interesting that this was said in the context of the Kerch incident, when Ukrainian warships didn’t shoot back at the Russian ones. But here the permanent firefight happens only in Donbass.

The topic of Kerch in general dominated during communication between Poroshenko and Western leaders. At least here some specifics were sounded – the introduction of new sanctions. The rest of the statements made by Ukraine were a repetition of old theses and general words.

It is interesting that the day prior the former people’s deputy of the Verkhovna Rada Andrey Artemenko stated that Poroshenko went to Munich in order to coordinate with Pence a possible provocation in the Kerch Strait, which could if not disrupt presidential elections, then at least return them to a course comfortable for Bankova Street’s anti-Russian rhetoric.

Munich was visited also by Yuliya Tymoshenko. There she met the director of the IMF Christine Lagarde. According to Tymoshenko, she consulted her about reducing gas prices in Ukraine. However, the Fund didn’t comment on this in any way.

By the way, on the eve of the conference “Strana” said that before flying to Munich Tymoshenko had returned to her image of a “women with a braid”. Judging by the photo that was uploaded by Tymoshenko, this seems to be the case.

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