Event Reports



With the crisis in Ukraine ongoing, questions remain about how best to address Russian actions in the region. Opinions among transatlantic partners differ slightly, presenting challenges for the U.S.-German relationship. The discussion provided a forum for senior experts and officials to discuss their perspectives on the implications of the Ukraine crisis for the transatlantic relationship.

The Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS) organized the event, held on May 13th, 2015, which brought senior U.S. government officials, Congressman Steve Russell (OK-5), former ambassadors, and think tank and field experts together for a focused and thorough discussion moderated by Dr. Lars Hänsel, Head of KAS’s Washington Office. Dr. Röttgen, Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee in the German Parliament, offered a German perspective on the current crisis in Ukraine as well as the impact the crisis is having on the U.S.-German relationship.

The underlying theme of the discussion was whether Putin’s posturing in Eastern Europe is bringing Germany and the United States closer together or driving a wedge between them. Throughout the discussion, Dr. Röttgen suggested that Vladimir Putin’s actions in Ukraine are not solely a bilateral conflict, but rather a challenge to the European Peace Order. Although Putin’s initial actions in Ukraine are perceived as tactical responses to secure his own power, increasingly Putin has pursued strategic objectives. Through an effective propaganda machine, a new narrative of Western aggression has resulted in the rise of Russian nationalism.

The discussion explored some of the underlying causes of the conflict and the relationship between the U.S. and Europe. Dr. Röttgen suggested that Russia’s actions in Ukraine stem from positions of weakness that rely on divisions within the West to maintain a façade of nationalist strength and preserve Vladimir Putin’s power. Given this weakness, continuing economic sanctions and political isolation against Russia, as well as extending economic support to strengthen the pro-Western Ukrainian government, provides an effective means of maintaining a united, transatlantic response towards Russia. This geo-economic approach is supported by Germany, while calls for a more traditional geo-political military response are gaining traction in the United States, particularly in the event that the crisis escalates. The need to maintain a common transatlantic response despite an unknown outcome of the Ukraine crisis was broadly embraced citing the “indispensable relationship” between the United States and Germany.

However, competing domestic matters challenge a unified response. Within Europe, public opinion is unfavorable towards providing economic support to Ukraine, in the context of the Eurozone Crisis. In the U.S., debate over whether to provide arms to the Ukrainian government continues and could meet with resistance from European allies. Striking a balance between internal political demands, support for Ukraine, and transatlantic unity and engagement represents a critical challenge.

Despite these challenges, the discussion clearly demonstrated that the U.S. and Germany, along with European allies, maintain their shared values and recognize the importance of a close transatlantic partnership when approaching the situation in Ukraine. Continuing dialogue on responses to this crisis between transatlantic stakeholders is a central mission of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung.