German Ambassador to Ukraine on the Future of Defense Cooperation
New leadership on both sides of the Atlantic are considering their priorities against the realities of continued instability inside and outside Europe. While NATO looks East and South, the EU is also increasingly preoccupied with its hard security. Ukraine remains an important part of the equation, amid other challenges facing the transatlantic partners.
The German Marshall Fund of the United States (GMF) together with the Boumbouras Foundation hosted the inaugural edition of the Kyiv Transatlantic Dialogues on October 26, 2017. This new initiative is specially designed to foster close and informal debate between Ukraine and its transatlantic partners. Ambassador Ernst Reichel, representative of the Federal Republic of Germany to Ukraine, spoke during the conference on the changing leadership in the Atlantic.
Q: What is your assessment of the EU–Ukraine Association Agreement for Ukraine’s security? Is there more Europe can do to assist Ukraine in its transition?
Ambassador Reichel: The entry into force of the Association Agreement, as well as the visa-free regime with the EU, demonstrates clearly that the EU stands by its commitments. Firm support for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity is a core principle of EU–Ukraine relations, and is also enshrined in the text of the Association Agreement. I believe that the best way to strengthen Ukraine as a sovereign state is to further support its ambitious transition process. If one looks for ways for Ukraine to move closer to the EU, the obvious next step is for Ukraine to do what it has committed itself to do: to align with EU standards and regulations and thereby remove the most important obstacles for convergence. Convergence through reforms is how Ukraine can become a successful country along the European model. Reforming Ukraine and creating convergence with the EU is not a concession Ukraine makes to the EU in exchange for concessions the EU makes — it is what the people of Ukraine demand from their leadership out of their own interest.
Speaking about EU support for Ukraine in view of the ongoing violations of Ukraine’s territorial integrity, the continuing EU consensus to maintain the full range of restrictive measures, including economic sanctions, introduced since 2014 against the Russian Federation in connection with the illegal annexation of Crimea and the ongoing destabilization in eastern Ukraine is a remarkable achievement some may have not expected. Also, the EU has demonstrated its solidarity with Ukraine by increasing reverse-flow gas transport from the EU to Ukraine and further connecting Ukraine to the European internal energy market. This has substantially improved Ukraine’s energy security.
Q: Is the Black Sea region still a priority for NATO and the EU, amid security concerns emerging from the Baltic and Mediterranean Seas?
Ambassador Reichel: Germany shares the concerns of many of its EU partners and NATO Allies about Russia’s increasing military presence in Crimea. The Warsaw Summit has clearly indicated that the security situation in the Black Sea region will remain a focus of the Alliance. Its concept of a Tailored Forward Presence has demonstrated NATO’s cohesion and sends a clear signal to Russia that further military build-up will be counterproductive. NATO’s strategy is to deter Russia, but also to maintain dialogue.
I understand that the security challenges in the wider Black Sea region will also be one of the priorities of the upcoming Bulgarian EU presidency.
Q: Given the evolving security challenges on Ukraine’s border with Russia, what are Germany’s priorities in Ukraine?
Ambassador Reichel: Since 2013/14, Germany’s support for Ukraine has reached an unprecedented scope. Our first priority remains the facilitation of a peaceful conflict resolution in eastern Ukraine through the full implementation of the Minsk agreements. This includes, first of all, full respect for the ceasefire, a withdrawal of all heavy weapons, and full freedom of movement for the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission in the entire territory of Ukraine, up to the border with the Russian Federation. With our partners in the Normandy format, as well as with the United States, we are currently discussing under which conditions an additional international presence in eastern Ukraine could create more favorable conditions for the implementation of the Minsk agreements.
But of course, German cooperation with Ukraine goes much further and extends to all major areas of Ukraine’s reform agenda. Ukraine is one of the biggest recipients of German support and Germany is one of Ukraine’s biggest donors. Via financial and technical cooperation Germany is particularly active in the field of energy efficiency, support of small and medium sized enterprises, rehabilitation of infrastructure, and decentralization and good governance. Former Prime Minister of Saxonia Georg Milbradt was nominated special envoy for the decentralization process. It is our firm belief that only a successful and sustainable reform process will enable Ukraine to strengthen its resilience against both internal and external threats to its stability and sovereignty.
The views expressed in GMF publications and commentary are the views of the author alone.