The EU should strengthen economic sanctions against the Kremlin and exclude Russia from Swift, said the German “green” MEP Viola von Cramon-Taubadel in an exclusive interview to Natalia Richardson for Brussels Ukraїna Review. She is strongly opposed to the launch of Nord Stream 2 and welcomes President Zelensky’s desire to move Ukraine closer to NATO membership. Mrs. von Cramon-Taubadel is one of the most active friends of Ukraine in the European circles, and decision-makers certainly hear her voice. Our magazine also found out why this charming German woman loves Ukraine.
The situation on the border of Ukraine is alarming. There are a lot of Russian forces there, and this is the worst-case scenario since 2014. The EU already reacted, so did Germany, France and so on. But what can Europe do to help Ukraine resolve this issue?
It is important, first of all, to have clear rhetoric and, of course, to express solidarity with Ukrainians and particularly with people in Eastern Ukraine. I think that Putin at least tries to test, more or less, the US and their commitment towards Ukraine. In the end, whether Russia and Putin will go and start a large-scale war, I am not so sure because when he annexed Crimea, the majority of Russians were very enthusiastic, and it created a huge wave of popularity for Putin in 2014. I don’t think that the Russians really would like to have a bigger hard war right now. I know that the popularity of Putin decreased. So, he is under pressure. And there will be elections in the fall. So this is typical behaviour for Putin looking for any kind of a conflict, any kind of distraction from his own domestic problems. That’s not uncommon.
I think we should be clear about it, this aggression is not about Ukraine, but it is about Putin. It is about him consolidating power in the country. It is foremost about the domestic issues. So, we should probably strengthen the Ukrainian military forces, but there are other ways too to increase the price for Putin, in case he goes for any attack. So, in terms of economic sanctions, we could consider excluding Russia from Swift. This way Russian trade will take a hit, and it will have a huge economic impact. We should have a clear agenda on how high the price might be. If we are not successful in scrapping Nord Stream 2, there should be other countermeasures for Russian aggression. But I would be very reluctant when it comes to military support.
Do you think that the previous sanctions did work? The EU introduced the first ones back in 2014. But are they effective?
Of course. Otherwise, Putin would not be so keen on lobbying to remove these sanctions. If they do not work, if there are no consequences for his people – economically or financially – he would not be so eager to remove them. So, they do work.
President Zelensky said that NATO membership for Ukraine is probably the only way to end the war in Donbas. Do you agree with him?
So far, I was somewhat reluctant when it came to NATO membership. But right now, I think this is definitely the only language that Putin understands. Thus, I would join Zelensky in his request.
Let’s speak about Nord Stream 2. The US State Department said that it is a bad deal for everybody. So, for Germany, for Ukraine, for Central and Eastern European countries. What is your message? What would you say to Putin about the new export gas pipeline?
For Putin, the deal is a strategic instrument to harm Ukraine. It has only one purpose: to go around, to circumvent Ukraine, nothing else. Just to make sure that they can politically and economically destabilise Ukraine even more. Because around 3 billion Euro annual revenue for transferring the Russian gas won’t reach Ukraine’s budget any more. There is no reason for us to get another pipeline. The pipeline Nord Stream 1 is not even used fully but only up to 2/3 of its capacity. We already have the “Druzhba” pipeline, we have other pipelines, and we need to decrease our dependence on fossil fuels instead of constructing new pipelines. This way, the demand for gas will not increase but rather go down making Nord Stream 2 futile. We need to invest in renewables to achieve our climate goal. So for all of us, it is a very anti-European project. Everyone in the European Parliament, apart from some Germans and some Austrians, are absolutely unhappy and very much rejecting this project. It was a very, very bad deal for all of us as it is geostrategically also really hazardous.
Do you think that American sanctions are the only way to stop this project?
Right now, I think Chancellor Merkel is not ready to change the German Government’s course, to revise what they decided in 2015-2016. So, apart from sanctions, I have no idea what else would work. Still, the German government is very much willing to proceed as it is. From my point of view, this is a major mistake.
One British expert said that now it is probably too late to stop the completion of Nord Stream 2 because almost everything is ready. Do you agree with him?
If the construction is finished, then it should be made sure that no cubic meter of gas goes through it. So nothing, zero gas should be transferred through this pipeline. If this could be guaranteed by the Americans together with the Germans, then fine, they should complete it, but not make money out of that and not threaten Ukraine with it.
One option was not being considered. There were suggestions that Nord Stream 2 should work but in exchange for green energy investments in Ukraine. Do you think it is a good idea?
No, that’s not going to cut it. We need green investments in Ukraine anyway, but do we need Nord Stream 2 for this? No, I don’t think this is a great idea, no.
Will your party use this topic for the campaign at the forthcoming German elections?
Sure. The Greens were the only ones in the political environment in Germany who opposed that project from the very beginning. Nobody in the Green party was in favour of it because we knew the danger, we saw what would come from the project. So yes, for us it is crucial: at some point, we need a commitment from a new government that this is not the way we are going to treat the European Union and our neighbours. I mean, just doing a special deal with Russia is not what we need in Europe.
Let’s speak about European prospects for Ukraine. What obstacles do you see for Ukraine on its way to the EU?
Well, a lot. We need fewer- or even better – no oligarchs in the political circles, and we have to reduce the influence of oligarchs. We have to make sure that the fight against corruption stays high on the agenda. I already said that Ukraine has to invest in renewables, have green investments instead of investing in fossils – oil, gas or coal. There is a lot of transition and transformation that needs to be done in Ukraine.
I hope the government will tackle it more ambitiously. While we, on the one hand, see that there were some backlashes in terms of the rule of law, on the other hand, in terms of procurement and some other issues, we had a good time where there was an opportunity with the government, with the external or international community, donors and civil society to really push for a good reform agenda after Maidan. But this window of opportunity is partly closed, and that’s very regrettable. So, it will be up to us, but foremost up to the civil society and Ukrainian public to stay up and intensify oversight of the government and President’s office and make sure that a position, for example, like a head of NABU is not being removed based on some sketchy law. And this, of course, is of high concern here in the European Parliament.
Mrs. von Cramon-Taubadel, we see you as a big critic of Ukrainian politics, but we also feel that you love Ukraine, and that’s why you criticise Ukraine.
It is true.
What is your personal, “love” story with Ukraine? You have been dealing with Ukraine since the mid-’90s. Can you tell us the details, please?
I was in Russia in 1993, and then many times after that I went to Russia to work there. In 1996, I got an offer to work as an assistant for the Deutsche Beratergruppe, for the German Advisory Group for the Ukrainian government. That’s when Yuschenko was Head of the Central Bank, and Kuchma was President, and Moroz was the Head of the Parliament. I came to Kyiv, I think, on the 2nd of July, and I thought: ok, Kyiv, Moscow – it is all the same. And then I realised: no, it’s not, it is completely different! And I really fell in love with Kyiv. It was a great time, it was very challenging, it was so good to see the country slowly developing. It was attentive to everything which came from the West and also had its own national identity. I think that the Ukrainian way of handling things and being very flexible and adaptive to things is a big strength. I sometimes admire the way things are being dealt with and taken up in Ukraine. So, there is a big chance, right now. I see, on one hand, many people leave Ukraine, but, on the other hand, there is a lot of new hope in the form of new smart business, smaller start-ups, creative business, digital innovations.
I mean, in many things Ukraine is much more ahead of what we see in Germany. I was always the one who brought journalists, different people, over to Ukraine to show the reality. We had a very narrow perspective when it came to Ukraine, which was mainly driven by Russian propaganda. And I always said: no, it is not true, Ukraine looks completely different, it has an intelligent young generation, vibrant IT sector, smart people, also very responsible people. It is not just a corrupt elite, it is so much more. And it is also important to show people in the West how Ukraine really is. Your country also has very good artists, very good people from the cultural sector, perfect orchestras, musicians, everything. There are so many cultural achievements, successes, and almost nobody knows about that in Germany or in other Western countries. This was always very close to my heart to show people the reality – the new Ukraine. Not the Soviet Ukraine, it is much more. That’s why I have been promoting Ukraine since 1996.
It is a wonderful story. Usually, we hear official statements from you but never about your personal experience…
And I met my husband in Kyiv. We are still together. He is Canadian German. And he worked on the same project.
Were your children also born in Ukraine?
One was at least produced in Ukraine (laughs) but not born there. The oldest one visited Ukraine with me right after the war in 2014. I could show him some of my favourite locations in Kyiv, Kharkiv and even Slovyansk and other places. It was interesting to show him around.
Such a remarkable experience! What about the European Parliament? We know that several MEPs deal with Ukraine, and they are very active. But what is the general mood? Are people there interested in Ukraine?
Ukraine is a very important country. When it comes to agriculture, trade, when it comes, unfortunately, also to military goods and production of other things, Ukraine is a strategic partner, and a key European neighbor of the EU with an aspiration to be much more than a just neighbor. I am not aware of everyone who works in Ukraine, but I am sure it is not just a small group. More things are going on in the digital sector, trade issues, industry issues where many more people are interested in Ukraine. Everyone also hopes that, in political terms, we see much more progress and less movements like “one step forward, half a step backwards.” In general, I see there is a positive attitude in the European Parliament towards Ukraine.