Michael MacKay, Radio Lemberg, 25.09.2017
Angela Merkel has won a fourth term as Chancellor of Germany. The result of the election is that her Christian Democratic Union/Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU) has the plurality of votes, and will likely govern in coalition with the Free Democrats and the Greens. Chancellor Merkel and the CDU/CSU leading the government is the best possible result for Ukraine, given the alternatives. It is also the worst outcome for Putin’s plans to expand Russia’s imperialist aggression against Europe.
Chancellor Merkel has perhaps taken Germany as far as it is able to go in support of Ukraine. After Poland was invaded by Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia in September 1939, US President Franklin D. Roosevelt supported Britain to the utmost, but he was constrained by the isolationist character of Americans at the time. When the Empire of Japan attacked the US and Hitler declared war on the US, only then were the last vestiges of isolationism overcome. After Ukraine was invaded by Russia in February 2014, Chancellor Merkel led the European Union to condemn Russia’s actions, to categorically refuse to recognize the so-called ‘annexation’ of Crimea, and to impose sanctions on Russian individuals and sanctions responsible for bringing war to the largest country wholly within Europe. But the German people still have a strong Russo-centric streak and a glaring ignorance about Ukraine. Germans are more easily victimized by Russian hate propaganda than are eastern Europeans who know Muscovy better. This means that while Angela Merkel is fully aware of the deadly threat to Germany from Russia, a sizeable chunk of the German population are not. Chancellor Merkel is stuck with half measures – for example, Germany (through its de facto leadership of the EU) is holding the line on sanctions, but it is not contributing to NATO training with Ukrainian defenders of Europe (as Canada, the US, and Lithuania do). Chancellor Merkel has been obliged to listen to Putin’s lies - in person and on the telephone, in German - for over three and a half years. Her patience is heroic. Putin is always looking for weakness in his enemies, but Angela Merkel has not weakened about Crimea, about the Minsk Agreements, about the need to observe ceasefires, or about sanctions. Chancellor Merkel will have the final word in Germany’s upcoming coalition government, and that word will not be a betrayal of Ukraine or of European values and ideals.
Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) leader Martin Schulz has announced that his party is going into opposition. There will be no “grand coalition” this time in Germany. A convention has evolved that someone from the junior coalition partner becomes the Minister of Foreign Affairs. This has been very bad luck for Ukraine, as SPD politicians have been Germany’s foreign affairs minister from the time Russia invaded Ukraine in February 2014 until today. Frank-Walter Steinmeier was in office when Russia’s armies first attacked Crimea and Donbas, and Sigmar Gabriel assumed office on 27 January 2017 when Russia had been illegally occupying Crimea for almost three years and was still attacking Donbas. Both Steinmeier and Gabriel proved to be Ostpolitik nostalgists and Russo-centric appeasers of the Putin regime. Talk from them was always about lifting sanctions that were imposed on Russia. At first, they said sanctions would be lifted when Russian troops left Ukraine; then it was if Russia respected the Minsk Agreements; then it was if Russia adhered to any one of the many ceasefires. With every escalation of Russian aggression Steinmeier and Gabriel weakened the conditions for lifting sanctions. Russia has not left Ukraine, never intended to respect any provision of the Minsk Agreements, and breaks every ceasefire within minutes. The policy of the SPD-controlled Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Germany has been simply to ignore Russia’s acts of war, and to pander to the insincere things Putin says. The SPD out from foreign affairs in Germany is good for Ukraine and good for European unity against Russian aggression.
Putin will try divide-and-conquer against the Greens. In some cases, he will succeed, as he did by co-opting Heidi Hautala, a Finnish Green MEP, and Jill Stein, Green Party nominee for US president in 2012 and 2016. Heidi Hautala organized the premier of a Russian propaganda film that attacks Sergei Magnitsky (who was murdered by Russian officials for exposing corruption) and Bill Browder; the film white-washes Pavel Karpov and Andrey Pavlov (who are sanctioned for murdering Magnitsky). Jill Stein was at the infamous Moscow dinner for Russian propaganda TV “RT” along with Putin and Michael Flynn. In other cases Putin will fail with his divide-and-conquer, and Green Party members will be supporters of Ukraine’s democratic and European path and opponents of Russian imperialist aggression – a stellar example is Rebecca Harms, a German Green MEP, who has visited Ukraine many times and spoken up for Ukraine in Strasbourg and in Brussels. Green Party of Germany members are a mixed bunch when it comes to defending Ukraine and standing up to Russian aggression, but it is unlikely they will get the foreign affairs post.
The Free Democratic Party (FDP) is a likely possibility for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Germany. The leader of the FPD is Christian Lindner. If Lindner becomes foreign affairs minister this will be bad news for Ukraine, Germany and Europe, and good news for Putin and Russia. Lindner is one of the breed of Western politicians who denies agency to Ukrainians, and who focusses on what Moscow wants. He doesn’t even mention relations with Kyiv, but has said “European security and well-being depend, in particular, on relations with Moscow.” He’s also OK with Ukrainians in Crimea being deprived of their citizenship. “Speaking of taboos: I’m afraid that Crimea should be viewed as a long-term temporary state”, he said, adding that the conflict around Crimea “needs to be ‘sealed’ for now” – in other words, he wants to pretend Russia’s invasion of Europe in Ukraine isn’t happening. He also is on record as saying that Russia can continue to ignore the conditions of the Minsk Agreements and he still thinks it would be a good idea to lift sanctions. All of the statements Lindner has made about Ukraine should be anathema to a politician who considers himself to be a liberal and who is the head of a party that has “free” and “democratic” in its name. Other FDP politicians have tried to distance themselves from Lindner’s extreme anti-Ukrainian views. If Lindner becomes foreign affairs minister, his Russo-centric excesses will likely be curbed by Merkel, but his ascendancy to that post means that the German Ministry of Foreign Affairs will continue to be a do-nothing when it comes to forging unity in Europe against Russian aggression.
The Alternative for Germany (AfD) is a far right party that is in the Bundestag for the first time. They will have no part in government. As an opposition party, the AfD will be a cheerleader for Putin’s autocracy and Russia’s imperialist aggression against Europe, and the AfD will attack European ideals of democratic government and values of toleration, respect, and openness. Russian hate propaganda, on TV and online, will support the AfD every step of the way. This will have the effect of making the monster appear to be bigger than it is in reality. But the AfD is not in power. For now, the AfD will be a boost to Putin’s information warfare against the West, but not benefit him otherwise.
On Twitter, President of Ukraine Petro Poroshenko hailed the election win of his friend Angela Merkel, calling it: “A victory that approaches the restoration of territorial integrity of Ukraine and its future in the United Europe!” More than the other leaders and parties in Germany in this election, Angela Merkel and the CDU/CSU are the best hope for Europe and for Europeans in Ukraine – as Ukrainians fight to defend Europe from Muscovy invaders and fight for their rightful place in their European home.