Rostislav Ishchenko: Steinmeier vs Klimkin – Why Kiev Won’t Receive Any More Money From the West

Translated by Ollie Richardson & Angelina Siard


In recent days three diverse, but noticeable and interconnected events occurred: the Federal President and former Minister of Foreign Affairs of Germany Frank-Walter Steinmeier made a working visit to Moscow; the Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine Pavel Klimkin made a similar visit to Berlin; the head of the board of “Naftogaz of Ukraine” Andrey Kobolev reported that, according to Kiev’s data, the first stage of the “Turkish stream” will become operational in 2018, after which Ukraine will lose at least half a billion dollars of annual payment for transit. It is approximately a forth or fifth of the total amount of $2-2.5 billion that Kiev still earns from the transit of Russian gas in the EU.

Kobolev was also concerned about the fact that if the second stage of “Turkish stream” will become operational – and it should start working by the end of 2019, then the cumulative losses to the Ukrainian budget will be already $1 billion, and annual earnings will decrease to 1-1.5 billion. But the head of the Ukrainian oil and gas holding for some reason didn’t mention a word about “Nord Stream-2”. But, after all, in the last two years the main attention of Kiev was focused on this, and failure of this project became nearly the national idea of Ukraine.

In an attempt to convince Germany to refuse the project Kiev received assurances of support from Poland, the Baltic States, and, most importantly, the US. Washington actively pressured its German partners, even with sanctions against the companies participating in the financing of the project, and even threatened them. America had a double interest. Firstly, it needed to keep at least partial financing of the Ukrainian project – perishing from a lack of money, at the expense of Russia. Payments for the transit of gas is not the only reliable source of foreign currency revenues in the Ukrainian budget. There is other income from gastarbeiters, but it is more difficult to plan their volume, and after all, the population doesn’t seek to share their foreign earnings with the State.

Secondly, the US hoped that, having faced inevitable problems in the Ukrainian direction (the traditional theft of gas during the winter period, deterioration of the Ukrainian gas transit system, and also serious political risks), and without having alternative routes to deliver gas to the EU, “Gazprom” will lose a part of the European market. The American shale companies – with more expensive, but politically correct North American gas – showed an ardent desire to fill the empty seat.

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The intention of Denmark to adopt the law allowing to block the construction of the gas pipeline in its waters became the last conditional success of fighters against “Nord Stream-2”. It can’t stop the project, it only creates some additional difficulties that, however, are quite surmountable. It is possible to say that the Danish case became a consolation prize for those who lost the fight to block “Nord Stream-2”. They didn’t solve their problem, but received some moral satisfaction.

As “Nord Stream-2” also has to become operational in 2019, for Berlin the need appeared to inform its Kiev subordinates about the cardinally-changing geopolitical situation, in which, as of 2020, a place for Ukraine isn’t provided, as it isn’t necessary. There was also a need to save face and to show that “support for the policy of reforms”, which are allegedly carried out by Kiev, remains, and that on the question of Crimea and Donbass Germany didn’t change its position, despite its unconditional participation in the Russian gas pipeline projects bypassing Ukraine.

And it is for this purpose that Klimkin was simply summoned to Berlin, where, as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Ukraine reports, he held a number of meetings with politicians and parliamentarians representing the forming coalition, discussing with them solutions to the problems in Donbass, issues in the implementation of the Minsk agreements, Crimea, and the further deepening of reforms. No joint statements followed, no documents were signed. I.e. the usual instructing of the official representing the mandated territory took place.

If the language of the birds of the Foreign Ministry press release is translated into normal Russian, we will receive the content of the instructions. Klimkin was told that Ukraine will be obliged to carry out a “policy of reforms” at its own expense; that the West not only won’t lend any more money, but also in the next two years it will deprive Ukraine of payments for gas transit. The issue with “Nord Stream-2” is solved, and it is better for Kiev not to drag its heels, running into a scandal with Berlin.

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As a consolation Berlin guaranteed the invariance of its position on recognising the Ukrainian status of Crimea (which in reality gives nothing to Kiev, as “Siemens” turbines all the same arrive on the peninsula) and its position vis-a-vis Donbass. As a result Berlin will insist further on the preservation of the anti-Russian sanctions. However, for Kiev this is also a matter of exclusively moral satisfaction. It’s not that the sanctions don’t oppress Russia at all, but that because of them Moscow benefits more from the stimulation of import substitution than it suffers from losses due to sanctions restrictions. But the EU has only losses and no positives.

Well and, finally, the anti-Russian sanctions are renewed every year, which requires the consensus of all EU members. It is enough if someone stands against it (while there have long been persons interested in this) and thus sanctions simply won’t be renewed for the next period, like how it already happened in regards to the restriction of the rights of the Russian delegation in PACE. Up to now Berlin successfully quelled such opposition in the EU. But in the future it can, without violating obligations undertaken in front of Ukraine, and strictly adhering to the course on sanctions personally, simply “fail” to convince its one-two-three younger partners in the EU.

In this plan the visit of Steinmeier to Moscow is symbolic. On the one hand, the Federal President is purely a ornamental decoration of the German political system, a sinecure for honored political pensioners. On the other hand, Steinmeier suddenly reported to the press that he intends to not limit himself during the meeting with Vladimir Putin to a legal ceremonial conversation, but to focus attention on the invariances of the German position on Crimea, Donbass, and the sanctions question.

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It would be possible to suppose that the German President – who, by the way, is the last active politician from those who acted as guarantors of the agreement of Yanukovych with the opposition, and who opened the doors to the February armed coup in Kiev of 2014 – was sent once again to probe the position of the Russian leader (to see whether it had been softened?). But German politicians of all levels, including the Chancellor, many times were engaged in such probing that hopes were dispelled long ago.

At the same time, against the background of the formally strong statements of Steinmeier, the German press eagerly wrote about how he loves Russia and how he desires to restore normal relations with it. This is an obvious hint that what is important is not what was specifically said concerning the commitment of Berlin to supporting Ukraine, but who says it and in what context.

Steinmeier, speaking about commitment to the policy of sanctions, all the time emphasized that it is his personal position, and that it is the government that determines German foreign policy. All this happened against the background of the only-important-for-Moscow commitment of Berlin to completing the construction of “Nord Stream-2”. Well, and it’s as if the general warm background of the German press hinted that it isn’t necessary to pay attention to a repetition of the over-used invalid formulas. Cooperation develops on fundamental issues, and this is the most important thing, while Germany is obliged to formally follow certain rules.

Judging by the despair of Andrey Kobolev, who concerning “Nord Stream-2” preferred in general to remain silent, and who concerning the “Turkish stream” expressed shy hope that, maybe, they at least won’t be in a hurry to put the second stage into operation, Kiev understood everything correctly. The West will still for some time say charming words, until it finds a pretext to nullify its obligations. But there won’t be any more money. At all.

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