German-Ukrainian Relations & Russian-Ukrainian Relations

Ukraine’s Quest for Mature Nation Statehood Roundtable XI:
“Compelling Bilateral Ties/Germany-Ukraine & Russia-Ukraine”

German-Ukrainian Relations & Russian-Ukrainian Relations/
Perspective from the Ukrainian Political Opposition

Hryhoriy Nemyria

Remarks by Dr. Hryhoriy Nemyria, Senior Foreign Policy Advisor to Julia Tymoshenko and former Deputy Prime Minister of Ukraine, delivered at Ukraine’s Quest for Mature Nation Statehood RT XI: Compelling Bilateral Ties/Germany-Ukraine & Russia-Ukraine, held in Washington DC on October 21, 2010.

Recently, Timothy Snyder, a professor of history at Yale University and a leading chronicler of my part of the world, published a book called the “Bloodlands”. It is a haunting read. The “Bloodlands” he describes stretch from the Baltic to the Black Sea, with Ukraine by far the largest. Here is where Hitler and Stalin did their most murderous work.

At one point, Snyder quotes the Russian novelist Vasily Grossman, who at World War II’s end found himself treading upon, and I quote: “bottomless, unsteady earth.” A Red Army soldier, Grossman was walking across the still-settling wasteland where the Treblinka extermination camp had stood only nine months before. Grossman, Snyder writes, “found the remnants; photographs of children in Warsaw and Vienna; a bit of Ukrainian embroidery; a sack of hair, blonde and black”. The loose soil, flung around by peasants digging for Jewish gold, was still-and I quote-“throwing out crushed bones, teeth, clothes, papers.”

Ukraine’s history, and its relations with and to the wider Europe, is like the field that Grossman described: at times unsteady under foot, and with long forgotten stuff always somehow working its way to the surface.

Despite this dark past that has never really passed, today’s Ukraine has achieved the longest period of national independence it has known in centuries. Many people in Europe, particularly in Germany, may see this independence as unsteady, awkward, even a bit wayward. But looks are deceiving. For the independence we have secured is remarkable not only in terms of durability, but even more importantly because it was gained peacefully-and not once but twice since the Soviet Union’s fall.

Today, however, that independence is being put into question once more, not from any external threat, but fro within. For the regime that is now in control of my country appears determined to barter Ukraine’s impendence away for the benefit of a handful of its business cronies.

Allow me digress to explain by I call Yanukovych’s administration a ‘regime’ and not a government; for I chose that word deliberately. I cannot-indeed, no one should-dignify Yanukovych’s rule as true democratic governance because it is actually the rule of a clique that first ignored our country’s constitution on such fundamental questions as how it formed its majority in parliament and whether or not it could renew the Russian Navy’s lease on the great port of Sevastopil, and then decided to junk our constitution to gather all power into its own hands.

Such a regime, built on contempt for law and making policy with only its favored few in mind, cannot and will not sustain itself for long. Ukrainians, as I have said, achieved their independence peacefully, but in ding so they have-perhaps for the first time in our modern history as a people-shown a willingness to put aside differences to unite to defend it. I am fully confident that we will continue to do so.

Indeed, the Yanukovych regime’s pretences to democratic rule are being laid bare before the whole world. A recent nationwide International Foundation for Electoral Systems showed that only 25 percent of Ukrainians now think Ukraine a democracy.

Given the rise of authoritarian rule in my country, and a degrading willingness to barter strategic assets for the short term profit interests of the regime’s backers, Ukraine’s continuing independence, and our place in Europe, is now tied inextricably to the current debates about a new security architecture for the continent, an architecture first proposed by Russian President Dmitri Medvedev and discussed with him this week at a trilateral summit with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

We all know what Russia wants from a reconstructed European security architecture; it wants a say over Europe’s security policies, including European Union and NATO expansion, and also promote its claim to a “zone of privileged influence” in the nations of the former Soviet Union.

But what does Germany, the European Union’s paramount economy and increasingly most influential member, want from the emerging new strategic dialogue with Russia? And how does it see its partnership with Europe within the Euro-Atlantic construct? These are questions of vital interest not only to Ukraine but to all of Europe.

First of all, let me say that I do not regard Russia’s role in Europe’s overall security as some sort of plot to limit American influence in Europe. Even if it were so, I hold no doubts as to Chancellor Merkel’s devotion to the Atlantic Alliance and to her belief in a united and free Europe.

Moreover, Russia faces such enormous strategic challenges to its east and south that, realistically, it needs the best possible relations with the trans-Atlantic community to assure its own security. Of course, not all of Russia’s leaders think this way, as the bizarre war games of last year that imagined a western invasion of Russia through the Baltics demonstrated. But the most clear-sighted of Russia’s leaders understand that only cooperation with the West can both modernize Russia and free it to watch more carefully over its more vulnerable eastern and southern frontiers.

We also need to stop seeing an imperialist impulse as the root of Russia’s current diplomacy. The imperialist foreign policy of czarist and Soviet Russia was facilitated by the weakness of nearly all the countries on Russia’s borders. This fragility enabled Russia to advance inexorably across the Eurasian land mass. Russian momentum was aided by the autocratic nature of Kremlin rule, which enabled czar and Soviet commissar to conduct policy without significant restraint. Security became synonymous with continued expansion, and domestic legitimacy was achieved by demonstrating power abroad.

Those conditions have shifted 180 degrees. Russia’s neighbors have overcome the weakness that tempted imperial adventures. The 2,250-mile frontier with China is not only a security challenge, but a demographic one. East of Lake Baikal, 6.8 million Russians face 120 million Chinese in the provinces along the common border. Across an equally long frontier, Russia has to deal with militant Islam extending its reach into southern Russia, as the terrorist attack in Grozny of a few days ago brutally demonstrated.

In the west lies Russia’s western frontier, where Russia finds itself with the need to adjust to the loss of empire, across frontiers behind which lie territories identified with Russian history for hundreds of years. But Russia’s strategic reach has been limited by emerging realities, including the NATO and EU membership of former Warsaw Pact states.

Though Russia’s population is experiencing a surge of national pride under Vladimir Putin and Dmitri Medvedev, these men understand the risk of altering the European order by Russia’s traditional methods. They know Russia’s Muslim population of 25 million contains a significant number of doubtful loyalty. The health system is in need of overhaul; infrastructure must be rebuilt. Russia is obliged to concentrate on its domestic reform for the first time in history, and ties to the EU, Germany in particular, facilitate that reform.

So my worries about the Russo/German partnership do not arise from any ingrained fear of bears. Instead, they arise from a concern about how Russia’s place in any new European security architecture is to be structured, and whether or not the direction in which Russo/EU relations are now moving will fatally unbalance Europe.

Today, forging an enduring structure that incorporates Russian concerns and yet keeps faith with the traditions of the West is a challenge before the US, the Atlantic Alliance, and, of course, my country. Unless the voice and the concerns of Ukraine are heard in these debates, the structure that may emerge will be unbalanced and the terrain on which Ukrainians and other peoples of Eastern Europe trod will become ever more suspect and unsteady.

In seeking to restructure Russia’s relations with Europe and the Atlantic Community, there is a clear need, first of all, to make certain that Russia is dealt with by the Euro-Atlantic community as a whole. For most of the past decade, this has not been the case. Indeed, up to now, Russia has actively discouraged the emergence of comm. trans-Atlantic and pan-European policies toward it in favor of seeking bilateral arrangements with individual European governments. This may or may not be deliberate policy of divide and rule, but it has succeeded in inhibiting the emergence of common EU policies toward Russia to which the Kremlin would object.

Of these bilateral relations, the most important is, of course, that between Germany and Russia. The marriage of German technology and industrial know-how with Russia’s vast untapped resources and economic potential must seem like one made in developmental heaven. After all, Germany is excellently placed to provide many of the things Russia needs to modernize its economy.

In many ways, the industrial partnership being forged is a boon to both nations. No one should gainsay the benefits for Germany, Russia or for Europe of this growing economic interdependence. Moreover, Russia’s close exposure to Germany’s open society and engagement with its business and political leaders is more prolonged and intense than in any previous period of Russian history. The longer this continues, the more positive the impact it will have on Russia’s political evolution.

Where Europe, including Ukraine, has a right to be concerned is in the political structuring of this relationship. Politics and international relations, after all, must reckon with capacities as well as intentions.

So though I do not foresee the rise of a new “Rapallo” alliance similar to that which existed after World War I, and which fatally unbalanced Europe in the 1920’s, it is right to examine the structure of the growing Russo/German relationship and its meaning to Europe.

The Rapallo relationship was desired by many in Weimar Germany as an alternative to the policy of accommodation with the West that President Friedrich Ebert and Foreign Minister Walter Rathenau were pursuing at the time. Ebert’s opponents, however, favored an independent German policy toward Russia that would give the Weimar Republic an alternative orientation and thus enhance its bargaining position with the West.

This position was strengthened when a secret plane of contact between Moscow and Berlin was established-the covert arrangements for collaboration between the German and Soviet military establishments. These dealings were put together for reasons of the purest and coolest expediency; by the Germans, because they enabled Germany to evade some of the Versailles Treaty’s restrictions on rearmament; by the Russians because it permitted them to get German help in building up a new Red Army.

I recall all of this not out of any fear of history repeating itself, but to remind us of something that is often forgotten-European unity began with a desire to anchor Germany as a foundation of the West. It probably has never entered the minds of the leaders of today’s Germany to seek to build a relationship with Russia in order to reach decisions over the heads of the rest of Europe and the Atlantic alliance, but the potential for this happening by accident exists simply because of the sheer scale of the emerging Russo/German partnership.

Indeed, the decision to build a pipeline across the Baltic Sea to deliver Russian gas directly to Germany despite protests from Poland, Sweden and other European nations demonstrated that, when both countries focus only on their narrow national interests, this possibility becomes very real. For the Russo-German economic partnership not to disquiet and unbalance Europe as it grow, its needs-like everything else in the European Union-to be anchored in the norms and rules of the Union.

Quite simply, although Russia now speaks favorably of European unity and wants a place in that unity, it has recoiled from many of its consequences-such as a common European energy policy or the EU’s concerns about the rule of law and human rights. A Russia that wishes to be fully a part of Europe cannot treat Europe as a smorgasbord, picking the elements it likes and ignoring those that it finds not to its tastes.

For Germany to remain a unifying factor in a balanced European Union, t has to retain what has been central to both Germany and the Union’s decades of success: that unique blending of national and supra-national elements in political decision-making. Forging a relationship with Russia that takes into account Ukraine’s European aspirations and desire to live in neighborly, friendly independent relations with Russia constitutes a decisive test for Germany that will determine the shape of the Union in future years.

Of course, it is right-as most Germans now do-to longer see Russia as a threat to the security of the West. Nevertheless, the risks of an unbalanced Europe emerging simply because of the scale of the Russo/German partnership are real and need to be taken seriously.

This is why Europe must do what it has always done since the process of European unification began: it must build a panoply of joint projects and institutions that anchor not only Russia within the Euro-Atlantic community, but nations like Ukraine as well. With such foundations in place, there will be no reason for Ukraine, or for any European nation, to be forced to tread, in Grossman’s words, on “bottomless, unsteady earth”.