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Rebecca Harms: “I was shocked about the way the US and Germany made a deal on Nord Stream 2”

Rebecca Harms

Тhe US-German agreement on the Nord Stream-2 pipeline increased doubts about the reliability of Ukrainian friends, said German Green Party politician, former MEP Rebecca Harms, in an interview with Natalia Richardson for Brussels Ukraїna Review. According to her, the Federal Network Agency should involve Ukraine, Poland and other countries in the procedures before the approval to operate. Mrs. Harms also shared her thoughts about the current challenges in Ukraine, lessons of the Maidan and possible further support of Germany.

The era of Angela Merkel as a German chancellor is nearly finished. What can it mean for Ukraine?

From a European perspective and a perspective of a friend of Ukraine, I can say that the major topics, challenges and also positive ideas about the development of Ukraine will remain pretty much the same. The biggest challenge is the Russian occupation, and the never-ending war or war-like situation in Donbas. In this context, I liked the idea of the Crimea Platform. I very much hope that the decision by the President and the government of Ukraine to make it a bigger issue in Ukraine and in the world will be reflected in more support for Ukrainians, especially for Crimean Tatars living under Russian occupation and suffering from political persecution.

For Donbas, I think the last year brought more clarity to the fact that Ukraine cannot win alone against Russian aggression. How can international support be strengthened? This question existed last year, and it still will be relevant next year. The other internal big challenge is the reform process. So, when the EU and Ukraine signed the Association Agreement in 2014, I knew that the reforms agreed upon would not go fast and easy, but they are the only winding path to the future. I was sure that it would be a bumpy road for both sides of the agreement, that there would be challenges. Last year proved it again.

Actually, we have experienced the same since 2004: Ukraine makes one step forward, and at least half a step back. Anti-corruption institutions are established, and Ukraine meanwhile has a perfect institutional framework – better than in other countries facing similar threats. But some of the same old powers in Ukraine manage to disturb or weaken the anti-corruption institutions. So, last year was a bit the same as the years before. But in late August-early September, I visited Kyiv after a long break, and after many meetings, at the Crimean summit or outside of it, I saw that progress still takes place, and positive change goes on.

Frau Harms, you are one of the most famous Western politicians in Ukraine. People know you as one of the active supporters of the Orange Revolution and the Euromaidan, and you were there many times. What mistakes did Ukraine make after these revolutions? What lessons can we learn?

The Maidan had some core ideas that I will never forget. Ukrainians wanted their country to be a normal state, in which the citizens are all equal towards the law. They saw the association agreement as a way to get rule of law and a place in the EU. They wanted to escape the impact and political pressure from the Kremlin, Putin and his cronies. Putin decided to start a war against this strong will of Ukrainians to make the way to functioning democracy and establishing the rule of law as difficult as possible. This was against the backdrop of Putin’s war, since the Maidan Ukrainians managed to achieve major progress for the reforms. I think Ukraine could be much more successful in reforms, for example, reforms of the judiciary. Establishing functioning institutions and creating a good framework against corruption would be much easier if the grip of the oligarchs on politics and industry and economy could be overcome. I’m convinced that we really need a better separation of interests and more transparency. People with the biggest financial interests have by far too much influence on politics in Ukraine.

On top of all these challenges, Ukraine also has a situation with the Nord Stream 2 pipeline that is practically finished. What can we do now? Is it still possible to stop or pause the Kremlin project?

Oh, yes and no. No, and yes. Also for me, as a member of the European Parliament, a European politician from Germany, it was a tough time. Some colleagues in the Green Party and I have been fighting for years against fossil fuel infrastructure projects. This pipeline is even more problematic not only in the context of global warming but also because it’s increasing Gazprom’s and Putin’s negative influence on the EU. Nord Stream 2 is an instrument of power and a threat against Europe and especially against Ukraine. I was very disappointed that in Germany, our resistance against the project was never successful. During the last year, I was doubting more and more whether we can really stop it forever. But I had hoped that we could at least achieve a break, a pending situation, and not give Putin this success finishing the pipeline as a new weapon against Ukraine. When this compromise was made in the United States, I was really surprised. Not about the fact that Washington also was looking for a compromise, but about the fact that it was so easy for the Germans to escape from the prepared US sanctions.

I felt devastated by the way the agreement was prepared and publicly communicated. It is an awful failure that two countries, very important friends for Ukraine – Germany and the United States – agreed, without involving Ukraine, without involving the president, the government and the parliament before going public.

I think this increased doubts about the reliability of the friends of Ukraine. I met many people who asked me whether Germans and Americans still take the Russian threat seriously.

So, it’s a failure and a mistake. But Ukraine, nevertheless, should continue to try to have an impact. Poland asked to be included in the decision in the approval procedures, which are now in the hands of the Federal Network Agency. And I also think Ukraine should be involved to ensure full transparency and the full guarantee that the EU gas directive is respected. This is now the least that the Germans have to do also as Member State of the EU.

Can Germans give Ukraine more support also in the question of Donbas? Several months ago, during a conference with the Ukrainian Free University, you said that Ukraine must receive weapons from Germany for Donbas. It was quite surprising to hear it from a “green” politician. What are the chances that Berlin can give these weapons to Ukraine?

I think I’m in a minority position with this although one of the co-presidents of my party, Robert Habeck, visited Ukraine, and we discussed the issue before he travelled. At the frontline, he said Germany at least has to think about more robust support including weapons for defence. We know that there is a list of military equipment Ukraine wants to buy from Germany. The debate in Germany after the Ukraine visit of our party leader was not very successful. But at least the question of the lack of support is again on the political agenda, and we have to continue it. A new and connected issue is how Berlin in the next years will support NATO presence in the Black Sea if we refuse the delivery of vessels for Ukraine’s navy.

This is one of the examples where I think the German position is doubtful because the requirements of the Ukrainian Navy are quite obvious. We would have the means to support the better equipment of the Navy. But if we don’t do it, then we, Germans, have to think about how to strengthen our or other NATO states’ military presence in the whole Black Sea region. We have Bulgaria, we have Romania, and these would be the first countries I would think about. So, we could go on if Germany would still refuse to deliver directly. I am convinced that EU and NATO interests for security are very much the same as the Ukrainian interest especially in the Black Sea. It is good that the Crimea Platform was a reminder.

Natalia Richardson, journalist, editor at BRUSSELS UKRAЇNA REVIEW

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