Will Merkel’s position on Ukraine thaw by the spring?

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January 12, 2015
Anna Rose for Rossiyskaya Gazeta
Translated from Russian by J. Hawk

In one of her video addresses to the citizens of Germany, Chancellor Angela Merkel did not mention the role of the Soviet Union in the victory over Nazi Germany when answering a question from a correspondent concerning celebrating the 70th anniversary of the end of the Second World War.
On Thursday the Ukrainian prime minister allowed himself a rather offensive comparison that was quite similar in tone. In an interview with Channel 1 he said “we all remember well the Soviet invasion of Ukraine and Germany.” By that Yatsenyuk meant the end of the war. German media harshly criticized this tasteless and crude comparison.

The portal “Spiegel Online” satirizes the statement:

”Indeed, starting with 1942 Soviet forces pitilessly advanced to the West. They were not afraid to pursue the army led by the democratically elected Reich Chancellor A. Hitler, including through Ukrainian territory. A somewhat longer route, South of the Black Sea—so as to bypass Ukraine—would have been clearly too hard for them. Therefore the Soviet forces violated eastern borders and invaded the sovereign territory of Germany, which we all, including Mr. Yatsenyuk, remember well.”

Incidentally, the German media commentary assumed a negative tone. Yatsenyuk’s harsh rhetoric toward Russia did not earn the sympathy of neither the German media nor the German population, and instead backfired. Thus the Suddeutsche Zeitung wrote in one of the headlines that Yatsenyuk’s “rude tone” may “complicate Germany’s efforts to resolve the crisis.”

The newspaper underscores that “the visit of the Ukrainian prime minister might be considered as a great success, but appearances are deceiving.” In the words of the commentator, while it’s undeniable that Angela Merkel promised support to Yatsenyuk and Kiev, condemned Russian actions, and promised money to restore eastern Ukraine. However, only the most incorrigible optimists believe that Ukraine will be able to use the money to rebuild the East any time soon, and even Yatsenyuk now clearly has doubts concerning Berlin’s unswerving support.

Angela Merkel’s rhetoric is likewise generally considered to be dictated by the uncertainty and the desire to save face. Overall, her position is not as firm and decisive as before. One of Rossiyskaya Gazeta’s diplomatic sources said that Merkel is angry by the meeting in Astana being in doubt due to the Kiev’s unwillingness to resolve the crisis. Suddeutsche Zeitung learned from the Ukrainian delegation that, behind the scenes, the German side imposed more and more conditions and limitations concerning both Ukrainian reforms and continuation of sanctions against Moscow.

Berlin’s position which Merkel voiced during Yatsenyuk’s visit, that sanctions can be removed only after their causes disappear is, according to the commentator “clearly not set in stone” and “is wobbling”. The new course, emphasizes the newspaper, clearly consists of flexibility when it comes to sanctions. At the same time IMF is in no hurry to give money to Kiev, making additional tranches conditional on Ukrainian reforms and the end of the siege of the Eastern provinces.

That the governing coalitions in several EU countries are experiencing growing conviction that anti-Russian sanctions must be relaxed is also the topic of discussion of the Berlin-based newspaper Tagespiegel.

 One has to wonder why Yatsenyuk, clearly a clever operative who can sense which way the wind is blowing, would ignore so many Germans’ sensitivities concerning World War II. One possibility is that Merkel’s omission (either deliberate or accidental) of USSR’s decisive role during WWII served as a “dog whistle” for Yatsenyuk, who felt emboldened to embrace outright neo-Nazi revisionism.

However, considering that Yatsenyuk hit all the wrong notes not only during that interview, but in all his encounters with the German media points in another direction—this is a sign of desperation by a man under whose feet the ground is shifting. The Kiev regime is a cornered rat. While on the one hand it means that a change of policy is imminent, one has to keep in mind that cornered rats still can bite.

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