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Partner Atlas of Germany's Foreign Policy

by Tim B. Peters, Toni Michel

Ukraine as a Partner for Germany to Strengthen the Value and Rules-Based International Order

How important is Ukraine for Germany when it comes to forwarding its interest in strengthening a rules and value-based world order?

Since the beginning of the conflict in Ukraine’s east and the illegal annexation of Crimea, there are parts of the country that are not under the control of the government in Kyiv. Ukraine is thus a test case on whether in today’s world naked military superiority trumps national sovereignty, self-determination, territorial integrity and the inviolability of borders without repercussions.

These principles have been recognised by all member states of the OSCE. Each country is free in choosing its foreign policy orientation and alliances. It is not only Germany’s security that depends on upholding these principles that underpin the European peace order but also our economic wellbeing within a united Europe. As a consequence of the Second World War, Germany long had to struggle to finally achieve its re-unification and self-determination. It was the Federal Republic’s strong rooting in Western political, military and economic structures that laid the ground for the country’s unification and freedom.

Ukraine’s self-determination, on the other hand, has been challenged from the outside without fault of its own. This is why it is even more crucial for the international community to support the country now when it comes to reaffirming its self-determination and territorial integrity. Another crucial aspect is that the tragic conflict in Eastern Ukraine is intimately connected to the preservation of the Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons: after the dissolution of the USSR, Kyiv agreed to hand the Soviet nuclear weapons that had remained on its territory over to Russia as stipulated in the 1994 Budapest Memorandum. In exchange, Ukraine’s independence, sovereignty and borders were confirmed by all signatories, including Moscow.

The annexation of Crimea casts a shadow on future disarmament efforts as the value of such guarantees has been diminished and the overall readiness to disarm dwindles. For Germany, however, this international control regime regulating the non-proliferation of nuclear warheads is a central foreign policy interest and the corner stone for worldwide disarmament.


WILLINGNESS: In how far is Ukraine prepared to work with Germany towards realising this foreign policy interest?

Ukraine has repeatedly committed to democratic values and a rules-based international order in a multitude of statements and resolutions. Further, Kyiv is an active member of many European and other international organisations. Since independence, over 34.000 Ukrainian troops have participated in UN operations as blue helmets while serving together with German service personnel in Kosovo and South Sudan. There is, then, overall a substantial willingness in Kyiv to work with international partners in this field, particularly with Germany.

Accordingly, Ukraine is utilising a multitude of international legal instruments in the ongoing conflict with Russia. Moscow has been taken to court by Kyiv in the International Court of Justice, the European Court of Human Rights as well as the WTO judicial mechanism. At the same time, Ukraine is welcoming international organisation like the OSCE and UNHCR to the country when it comes to humanitarian and monitoring missions.

In the health sector, Ukraine is working together with the WHO for a long time. Humanitarian aid to the country’s eastern regions, reforms in Ukraine’s health sector and fighting infectious diseases like tuberculosis, measles or, recently, Covid-19 are prominent examples.

Furthermore, Ukraine has - involuntarily - had to gain a wealth of experience from the conflict in the east and the pandemic when it comes to disinformation and fake news disseminated from abroad – an issue that is widely recognised to be of international concern.

Finally, Ukraine is actively working towards gaining entry into structures like NATO and the EU where it is prepared to submit to internationally binding primary and secondary law.

For all these reasons that Ukraine is a credible partner for Germany when it comes to promoting and defefending the rules-based world order.


STATUS QUO: How close are Germany and Ukraine currently cooperating in this field?

Germany is recognised within Ukraine as one of its most important and reliable partners. Berlin is intimately involved with the international diplomatic efforts aimed at mitigating the crisis in Eastern Ukraine, particularly when it comes to the Normandy Format but also the United Nations and the OSCE.

Germany has been and remains a key proponent of introducing and upholding targeted sanctions against Russia following its flagrant breach of international law. Apart from that, Berlin is strongly supporting Ukraine’s reform efforts through bilateral and European assistance missions. Within the framework of the EU, Germany is also working towards achieving a consensual solution when it comes to Ukrainian-Russian energy relations.


POTENTIAL: What are the prospects to intensify the partnership between Germany and Ukraine in this policy field?

Along with Ukraine’s sovereignty and self-determination, the entire concept of international law is being questioned right in the heart of Europe. This is why the country is a key partner when it comes to defending international law as the core component of international relations. Since 2014, Ukraine has undertaken significant reforms which remain unprecedented in its post-independence history and are key to achieving this goal. Germany should firmly support these efforts as democratic countries governed internally by the rule of law tend to translate these principles into their outward behaviour.

Moreover, Ukraine is an important regional player and successful reforms in a large country of some 40 million people and a long history as part the USSR would be an important symbol. Given all this, Ukraine is currently the first defensive line when it comes to European values.

Finally, there are a number of concrete issues around Ukraine that need to be addressed with a view towards strengthening international legal principles. Among them is the Azov Sea where Russia is currently attempting to challenge international maritime law. Additionally, there are significant long-term risks stemming from the militarisation of the Crimean Peninsula. Here, a joint approach of NATO states and other littoral countries is required.


RECOMMENDATIONS: What has to change in German foreign policy to fulfil this potential?

Germany should pursue a comprehensive approach when it comes to defending the value and rules-based international order. Breaking international law must be consistently sanctioned. Clearly, accepting illegal behaviour would have dire consequences that outweigh short and medium-term costs from economic sanctions and entry bans. Sanctions relief must depend on concrete positive steps in the framework of the Minsk Agreements. Towards this end, German diplomacy should make more efforts at persuading other partners that Europe’s unity and peace order are being defended in Ukraine. The country itself should be able to look ahead towards an EU membership perspective in the long term. On the way there, Ukraine should be offered concrete benefits for increasing convergence that need to be clearly tangible for the population.

When it comes to the debate on Nord Stream 2, Germany’s diplomats should work towards a credible international legal framework that awards Ukraine predictability when it comes to energy and its finances through continued deliveries of natural gas via Ukraine to Europe. Towards this end, Germany should work with the EU, Russia and Ukraine to find a multilateral solution.

In order to achieve sustainable international reconciliation with countries it occupied during the Second World War, Germany needs a remembrance culture that raises awareness for, and also appropriately reflects the suffering of millions of victims of the Second World War in all post-Soviet states, including Ukraine.

Finally, Germany should continue its support for Ukraine’s reform efforts. This continued engagement must be linked to verifiable progress to prevent democratic backsliding.


Contact Person

Tim B. Peters

Tim B

Head of the KAS Office in Ukraine (Kyiv) +380 44 4927443 (Kyiv)
Contact Person

Toni Michel

Toni Michel

Project Coordinator and Researcher +380 44 4927443