Over the last years and particularly since 2014, observers have noticed a growing German activity in and around Ukraine. What are the causes of such interest? So, how to explain the roots of Germany’s geopolitical interest towards Ukraine?
The first aim is mainly of a geopolitical nature; Germany wants to attain a role of Mitgestalter, co-manager along with the EU, the US and Russia, of a key European state.
The underlying motives are multi-layered and multi-dimensional: Russia’s absorption of Ukraine would have been potentially dangerous for the EU’s and Germany’s security as it would put a heavy pressure on its Eastern flank, especially on Poland. Poland is, not by chance, a great supporter of Ukraine’s aloofness from Moscow’s political and economic sphere of influence.
At the same time, for Germany, Ukraine heavily dominated, militarily or economically, by the US could severely strain EU’s geopolitical expansion plans. Plans that seek Ukraine’s transformation into a ruleand value based country pursuant the EU’s model of Wertgemeinschaft or “value based community” encompassing the substantial respect of human rights and freedom of expression and into a new economic hub with important technological skills, cheap labour and substantial commercial ties through the Black Sea and its energy related sources from the Caspian Sea.
The second reason for its commitment to Ukraine is that Germany does not want the US to manage a political process of transformation imprinted exclusively on a US based model. Above all, Germany does not want the US to spark off a military conflict, even by accident or following an incident, nor, at best, a confrontational approach with Russia on Ukrainian soil that would be dangerous for Germany itself. This explains Germany’s rather cautious approach to the security-military integration of Ukraine’s into Euro-Atlantic structures and, namely, Ukraine’s absorption into NATO. This is true especially for the SPD.
The US are not always happy with Germany’s autonomous stance in Ukraine and, more in general, with its realm of foreign policy, especially when conducted vis à vis with the Russian Federation.
One of the motives of the US intervention in Ukraine was to hinder the possible rapprochement of Germany and Russia in terms of investments and energy cooperation)and to weaken an increasingly assertive Russia on the international stage(for instance the developing of the Eurasian Union, a mainly Russian sponsored project). From the US’s point of view, this closeness is very detrimental as it represents a welding together or tight economic cooperation between the major powers on the European and Eurasian continent, as Russia is, fundamentally and very specifically, a country of European culture but with a Eurasian geopolitical projection.
The third reason for Germany’s strong commitment to the Ukrainian crisis is its important role as mediator and chief manager of the crisis (Vermittlerrolle-Führungsrolle). Germany thus embodies the EU’s commitment towards a solution of the Ukrainian crisis and represents the interest of the Eastern European countries and in particular Poland, the Baltic States and Romania that, being nearer to Ukraine, are more directly involved and concerned about the possible outcomes of the crisis especially, for the latter one, as far as the Black Sea is concerned. The achievement of the role of leader in the EU’s foreign policy -or in its acronym CSDP- is a very important goal for Germany.
Therefore, Germany is trying to create a foreign policy stand that is an autonomous from the position of US on Ukraine, attempting at the same time to mend, somehow, its relations with Russia; the outcome of this course chosen by the German Chancelor Angela Merkel with her Russian counterpart, though, is still uncertain or faltering as the Ukraine crisis has hardened or stiffened the resilience of Russian political thinking and way of acting on the international scene, a fact that is well understood and of concern for Merkel herself from the very onset of the Ukrainian crisis in 2013.
Overall, Germany dominates the EU from the economic point of view and would like to mediate -to a certain extent- relations between the US and Russia and their severe geopolitical feud through the management of Ukraine’s crisis and political transformation in order to play in the “first league” of world powers.
The fourth reason of interest lies is Ukraine’s good profitability for German investments, especially in the manufacturing and in the agrarian sector, in particular in the so called “Black lands” of Western Ukraine. During the Cold War, Germany was an object of international politics (machtgeschützte Innerlichkeit or inwardness protected by someone else’s power) more than a full-fledged player, wholly capable of political actorness and clout in Europe and in the world. The Ukraine crisis has allowed Germany to return to the role of power that defines the developments of regional and continental politics (Ordnungsmacht).
However,it is impossible for Germany, as for any other country, to be a staunch supporter of Ukraine’s EU integration and a good friend of Russia at the same time. On this issue, Germany’s political spectrum is divided between centre-winged parties on one side and the Russia leaning extreme right-winged (AfD) and left-leaning parties(die Linke)-plus the powerful German business community- on the other. The first are in favour of an integration of Ukraine; the latter would prefer mending relations with Russia. The cultural reason behind this derives also from Germany’s dichotomous self-perception as Abendland (with a strong ancient Roman, Greek and Christian cultural legacy) with a leaning to Russian culture seen ideologically as an alternative to the soulless market economy, or as a purely Western-democratic and market oriented society, like the US or Great Britain. It would be necessary for the two sides to strike a deal and make an ultimate commitment to either one choice or the other in order to take a straight stance on the lingering, wearying feud between Russia and the West over the complex and articulated Ukrainian issue.