Andrey Kurkov is a Kyiv-based bestselling author. He has always had a fine antenna when it comes to seeing Eastern Europe over Germany. There have been “a lot of anti-German emotions” that have come out of the conversations he has had over the past three months, the chairman of the writers’ association PEN in Ukraine told DW. He is one of the most prominent commentators on Ukrainian affairs, writing for publications such as The Economist and the new yorker.
“Angela Merkel is openly identified as the culprit,” he said. The former German chancellor of the center-right Christian Democrats (CDU) started doing “even more business with Vladimir Putin” even after the Russian president illegally annexed Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula in 2014. And “after the beginning of the war in the Donbass”. Merkel continued to push the construction of the Nordstream 2 gas pipeline across the Baltic Sea, says Kurkov, who meticulously recorded the events of the pro-European Maidan revolution in Ukraine in 2014 in his book “Ukraine Diaries”.
Author Andrey Kurkov is one of the leading analysts of Ukrainian affairs
“We have the right to demand more”
Shortly after the outbreak of war in February, the new German Chancellor unveiled a fundamental realignment of German foreign policy. A “Zeitenwende”, or paradigm shift, was what Olaf Scholz called in a speech to the parliament, the Bundestag. Germany would invest heavily in its military, he said. Germany would cancel its economic interdependence with the Russian aggressor. The Kremlin would be boycotted.
And yet, for weeks, criticism of Ukraine has been raining down on German policymakers, first and foremost because Berlin continues to import huge amounts of raw materials from Russia, which pours money in the Kremlin.
“We have the right to be emotional. We have the right to demand more — more weapons, more sanctions (…) You are only losing money while we are losing our lives! Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Irina Vereshchuk said in early May, following the evacuation of more than 100 civilians from besieged steel mills in the eastern city of Mariupol.
As it is becoming increasingly clear, Germany’s foreign policy about-face is a painful process, one that accompanies Ukraine’s agony and the unfolding of the war.
A departure from Germany’s basic assumptions
This pain has a lot to do with criticism of German policy since 2014, since Ukraine’s pro-European Maidan revolution and Russia’s assault on the country’s internationally guaranteed sovereignty.
“Something has changed since 2014 in German politics, namely the shift to a much more critical stance towards Russia compared to 2014, despite Nord Stream 2,” says Eastern Europe analyst Margarete Klein of the Berlin-based German Institute for International and Security Affairs (SWP), which advises the German government.
“However, no fundamental paradigm shift in Germany’s Russian policy has taken place. It remains based on a series of untenable basic assumptions, for example that one can separate economic cooperation and conflict from security policy,” Klein said, adding to this the belief “that a European security architecture can only be established by incorporating Russia.”
In Klein’s words, the heart of the Zeitenwende “means to revise these assumptions, that we really grasp that economic cooperation can also have ramifications for security”.
Ukraine has long remained almost unnoticed
Virtually every Eastern European state, including Ukraine, has repeatedly warned in the past that Germany faces extortion due to its reliance on Russian energy.
German historian Karl Schlögel says Ukraine has always been seen as Russia’s backyard
Yet such warnings from Ukraine simply went unnoticed, says Karl Schlögel, a German historian of Eastern Europe. He also addresses his criticism to himself. “All of Europe – including mine and that of many of my generation – is Russian-centric. Who has been to Ukraine, ever? Or any other ‘province’ of the Soviet empire?” Schlögel told DW.
“This, of course, has to do with the fact that Ukraine has always been considered a part, a province, a backyard, so to speak, of the Soviet Union and, before that, of the Russian Empire. She was never perceived as a subject in her own right, as a nation, as a people”.
This would at least partly explain the vehemence of Ukraine’s criticism of Germany’s foreign policy. Who would accept the assumption that they are not even supposed to exist?
And the accusation hangs particularly heavily on Germany, which invaded its Eastern European neighbors during World War II and systematically exterminated six million European Jews. “Until very recently, the main scene of German crimes in the east, namely Belarus and Ukraine, was not even on the map,” Schlögel said. This is despite the fact, he argues, that the crimes of the German army, the Wehrmacht, have been exposed to the German public since 1995. That was when the traveling exhibition “Annihilation War: Crimes of the Wehrmacht 1941-1944”, also known as the “Wehrmacht Exhibition” by the Hamburg Institute for Social Research began to raise awareness of German atrocities in Ukraine.
“It’s actually outrageous that it took another war to bring Ukraine back as a battleground in our memory, our consciousness, on our horizon. It’s quite alarming,” Schlögel told DW.
He adds that one can now “only hope” that, unlike the successful Euromaidan revolution and the start of the Russian war in eastern Ukraine in 2014, Ukraine’s needs will not go away. not on the European agenda. Russia’s war “did not start in February”, says Schlögel. Since 2014, he points out, the war has caused thousands of victims and caused mass flight and expulsion.
Europe as an escape
For Kurkov, there is indeed an escape from this German-Ukrainian cycle of evil. The memory of Germany’s reign of terror in Ukraine is now fading, he says. “We talk a lot less about the Second World War” in his conversations in Ukraine, he says. When people “refer to fascists, they now mean Russia, not Nazi Germany,” Kurkov says.
Ukrainians are watching Germany and its foreign policy closely, mainly because it is considered the “first state of the European Union”, says Kurkov. Ukraine wants to become a member of the EU. Kyiv’s elites see clearly that joining NATO could take much longer, he says. “Europe is a great hope and a key issue for the country’s independence,” Kurkov adds. “Europe means security for Ukraine.”
This article was originally written in German.
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