In­ter­view with Ger­man Am­bas­sador to Ukraine Anka Feld­husen ahead of Unity Day

Kyiv Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Brian Bon­ner bon­ner@ kyiv­

In­ter­na­tional op­po­si­tion has al­ways been strong to the Nord Stream 2 pipe­line, which will by­pass Ukraine and send more nat­u­ral gas di­rectly from Rus­sia to Ger­many.

But now, a grow­ing cho­rus of voices inside Ger­many is call­ing on Ger­man Chan­cel­lor An­gela Merkel to call a halt to the Baltic Sea project that is 94% com­plete and, once op­er­a­tional, will in­crease the di­rect bi­lat­eral tran­sit ca­pac­ity to 110 bil­lion cu­bic me­ters when com­bined with the ex­ist­ing Nord Stream line.

And Merkel is said to be lis­ten­ing. She is also said to be ex­as­per­ated with Vladimir Putin and dis­trust­ful of the Krem­lin dic­ta­tor, who she knows well from her 15 years as chan­cel­lor. If Merkel’s con­cern trans­lates into real ac­tion rather than po­lit­i­cal pos­tur­ing, the near-fatal Aug. 20 Novi­chok poi­son­ing of Krem­lin critic Alexei Navalny will be the turn­ing point.

“Navalny seems to have been kind of the last drop. The fact he’s treated in Ger­many made it closer to us,” Ger­man Am­bas­sador to Ukraine Anka Feld­husen said in an in­ter­view with the Kyiv Post, ahead of the 30th an­niver­sary of Unity Day on Oct. 3, cel­e­brat­ing the na­tion’s re­u­ni­fi­ca­tion.

Merkel, a revered fig­ure in Ger­many and in­ter­na­tion­ally, will be leav­ing of­fice next year.

So Ukraini­ans, Amer­i­cans and other op­po­nents of the 1,230-kilo­me­ter Nord Stream 2 are hop­ing that she can be per­suaded to de­liver the death blow to the pipe­line that is seen as a pet po­lit­i­cal project of Putin rather than an eco­nom­i­cally sen­si­ble one, at a cost of $11 bil­lion, when cheaper de­liv­ery op­tions (such as through Ukraine’s land-based pipe­lines) ex­ist.

“She would have never come out say­ing that stop­ping Nord Stream 2 stream is on the ta­ble if she hadn’t been ex­as­per­ated” with Putin, Feld­husen said.

Still, the le­gal and fi­nan­cial ram­i­fi­ca­tions of stop­ping a project that is pri­vately fi­nanced ap­pear to sug­gest that Nord Stream 2 even­tu­ally will be com­pleted, de­spite the on­go­ing de­lays. Un­der an agree­ment with Rus­sia’s Gazprom, Ukraine can ex­pect to tran­sit at least 40 bil­lion cu­bic me­ters of Rus­sian gas an­nu­ally for the next sev­eral years — about a third of ca­pac­ity.

And, even if Ger­many turns against the project, Ber­lin is not happy that Nord Stream 2 crit­ics, chief among them Amer­ica, have cho­sen eco­nomic sanc­tions on the pri­vate com­pa­nies in­volved in build­ing the new pipe­line. “I hon­estly think that’s wrong be­cause it’s against a part­ner,” she said.

Yet if Rus­sia keeps up its law­less ways and stonewalli­ng on an­swers de­manded in the Navalny poi­son­ing, Ger­many may have no other choice than to fi­nally get tougher on Putin. The Krem­lin “might lose one of their com­mu­ni­ca­tion part­ners” in the Euro­pean Union, the am­bas­sador said.

The prob­lem of how to change Rus­sia’s be­hav­ior is one that the West col­lec­tively still has not solved, she said, leav­ing un­sat­is­fy­ingly slow and in­cre­men­tal progress — if at all. On Rus­sia’s war, which Ger­many has a lead role with France in peace talks, she cited mod­est ad­vance­ment in the abil­ity of Ukraini­ans to travel to and from Krem­lin-con­trolled ar­eas, dem­i­ning and pris­oner ex­changes.

In any case, the en­ergy re­al­i­ties are that Ger­many will need lots of Rus­sian nat­u­ral gas for the fore­see­able fu­ture as it tran­si­tions to re­new­able sources and away from nu­clear en­ergy by 2050 and then even­tu­ally coal and oil.

“If it doesn’t come from Nord Stream 2, it will come through Ukraine,” she said. “Nord Stream 2 for Rus­sia was al­ways more of a show­case than about mak­ing money. If that is stopped, one of their big­gest light­house projects goes down the drain. They will be able to sell the gas oth­er­wise, but will have taken a huge blow in eco­nomic pres­tige.”

Don’t wait a gen­er­a­tion

Dur­ing the hour-long in­ter­view with the Kyiv Post, Feld­husen was gen­er­ally up­beat about the state of po­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic and cul­tural re­la­tions be­tween Ukraine and Ger­many. She also be­lieves that Ukraine is on the right track to greater in­te­gra­tion with the Euro­pean Union, po­lit­i­cally and through con­crete eco­nomic trans­for­ma­tions such as be­com­ing con­nected to the Euro­pean elec­tri­cal power grid in com­ing years.

She, more­over, thinks that Pres­i­dent Volodymyr Ze­len­sky should not worry so much about his de­clin­ing pop­u­lar­ity since his land­slide elec­tion last year. “I would tell him: You are do­ing things the coun­try and peo­ple need and they ap­pre­ci­ate it. Don’t worry about your num­bers.”

Yet, just as Ukraine is un­happy with Ger­many for its sup­port of Nord Stream 2, Ger­many — as an EU leader and one of the G7 democ­ra­cies — has long been crit­i­cal of Ukraine’s in­abil­ity to sum­mon the po­lit­i­cal will to com­bat cor­rup­tion and cre­ate strong and trusted public in­sti­tu­tions, es­pe­cially in the courts.

“Ukrainian peo­ple want jus­tice re­form,” she said. “What Ukraine has in­stead is a vi­cious cir­cle of in­sti­tu­tions de­fend­ing each other. What you need, above all, is the po­lit­i­cal will from the very, very top. This is some­thing that the pres­i­dent has to come out more force­fully on. Without this re­form, the coun­try will need an­other gen­er­a­tion to ben­e­fit from this re­form. If I were Ukrainian, I would not want to wait an­other gen­er­a­tion.”

Ad­di­tion­ally, Ger­many and the other G7 na­tions — United States, France, Italy, Ja­pan, Canada and the United King­dom — are try­ing to find ways to pres­sure Ukraine into en­sur­ing the strength of in­sti­tu­tions that form “an in­de­pen­dent anti-cor­rup­tion” sys­tem. Those in­clude the Na­tional Anti-Cor­rup­tion Bureau of Ukraine, the Spe­cial­ized An­ti­Cor­rup­tion Prose­cu­tor’s Of­fice, the High Anti-Cor­rup­tion Court and the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion for the Preven­tion of Cor­rup­tion.

All came into ex­is­tence as part of the slate of re­forms un­der­taken af­ter the EuroMaidan Revo­lu­tion over­threw Krem­lin-backed Pres­i­dent Vik­tor Yanukovych in 2014. Af­ter he fled to Rus­sia, Ukraini­ans learned he

left no money in the state trea­sury and of­fi­cial es­ti­mates are that his klep­to­cratic regime stole any­where be­tween $40-$100 bil­lion in four years of power. Yanukovych’s thiev­ery was aided by his mo­nop­o­liza­tion of all branches of gov­ern­ment and power agen­cies, in­clud­ing po­lice, pros­e­cu­tors and courts.

But, ei­ther be­cause of lim­ited pow­ers, ob­struc­tion from pow­er­ful vested in­ter­ests or in­ter­nal be­tray­als, Ukraine’s anti-cor­rup­tion agen­cies haven’t made much of a dent in Ukraine’s ubiq­ui­tous cor­rup­tion prob­lem.

More­over, civil so­ci­ety ac­tivists and in­de­pen­dent jour­nal­ists find them­selves in­creas­ingly un­der at­tack. Case in point: The ar­son fire that de­stroyed Vi­taliy Shabunin’s home, a crime that re­mains (like al­most all of them) un­solved — some­thing that Ger­many has not for­got­ten, Feld­husen said. “We no­ticed that and we talked about it,” she said.

Also, Feld­husen cited ab­surd court de­ci­sions and reg­u­la­tory rul­ings as detri­men­tal to in­vest­ment.

Without rule of law, Feld­husen said, Ukraine will never reach its po­ten­tial — and never at­tract enough in­vest­ment to trans­form the coun­try

from a poor one to a pros­per­ous one. “It will stay dif­fi­cult to in­vest here.”

Economies hum along

While the COVID-19 pan­demic has in­flicted huge fi­nan­cial losses glob­ally, na­tional economies are re­cov­er­ing. Ukraine, in fact, may even shake off the ef­fects by the end of the year, some pre­dict. Ger­many, mean­while, re­mains a world eco­nomic pow­er­house.

In Ukraine, Ger­man busi­nesses have told Feld­husen that “the dam­age by the pan­demic is less than ac­tu­ally ex­pected,” aside from such ser­vice in­dus­tries as ho­tels and air­lines.

And, look­ing at the trade fig­ures, it’s hard to see the prob­lems be­tween Ukraine and Ger­many. Last year, bi­lat­eral trade ap­proached $10 bil­lion and, de­spite the pan­demic, the 2020 num­bers could come in strong too.

And there’s con­crete ex­am­ples of new in­vest­ment.

Kostal Ukraine, a sub­sidiary of Ger­many’s Leopold Kostal GmbH & Co., is build­ing a sec­ond plant for the production of au­to­mo­tive elec­tron­ics near Kyiv Bo­ryspil In­ter­na­tional Air­port. It’s ex­pected to start work in

April 2021.

Feld­husen joined Verkhovna Rada speaker Dmytro Razumkov, Kyiv Oblast Gov­er­nor Va­syl Volodin, direc­tor gen­eral of Kostal Ukraine Ra­doslav Shkup and other dig­ni­taries for the ground­break­ing cer­e­monies for the nearly $50 mil­lion in­vest­ment that is ex­pected to cre­ate 900 jobs. The com­pany has al­ready one auto com­po­nents production cen­ter, opened in 2006 and em­ploy­ing 1,000 peo­ple, in Pereiaslav of Kyiv Oblast.

Also, in De­cem­ber, the Ger­man­based STADA Group, a global man­u­fac­turer of generic drugs and con­sumer healthcare prod­ucts, ac­quired the phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal busi­ness of Bio­pharma, one of the key phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal pro­duc­ers in Ukraine. The pur­chase also in­cluded the production cen­ter in Bila Tserkva, the city of 200,000 peo­ple lo­cated 85 kilo­me­ters south of Kyiv. Feld­husen said she un­der­stands the com­pany is in­vest­ing more than $90 mil­lion into Bila Tserkva and ex­pand­ing em­ploy­ment.

‘Noth­ing to worry about’

Of all the things that Ukraine needs to worry about, in­clud­ing Rus­sia’s on­go­ing war, a change in Ger­man for­eign pol­icy should not be one of them — no mat­ter who wins Ger­many’s elections next year.

“Ukraine has noth­ing to worry about,” she said. “Our re­la­tions are so in­ten­sive and across par­ties. They are all vir­tu­ally knock­ing on my door, ask­ing when they can come to Ukraine. Ukraine has very stead­fast friends in Ger­many.”

Rough adap­ta­tion

None­the­less, the Ger­man diplomacy mis­sion, with 150 peo­ple work­ing for the em­bassy, is strug­gling along with ev­ery­one else to ad­just to the re­stric­tions im­posed by COVID-19. Unity Day cel­e­bra­tions will be on­line, rather than in the court­yard of the Ger­man Em­bassy in Kyiv.

Feld­husen’s travel around Ukraine has been cur­tailed, but not elim­i­nated. She con­tin­ues to hold in-per­son meet­ings, with plenty of phys­i­cal dis­tanc­ing, in­clud­ing with Prime Min­is­ter Denys Sh­my­hal. She also does reg­u­lar me­dia in­ter­views, in Ukrainian when the cir­cum­stances de­mand.

“We’ve all be­come more cre­ative to avoid be­com­ing in­fected while still meet­ing peo­ple, with open win­dows and open bal­conies,” she said if the weather for­bids out­door meet­ings.

At the higher lev­els, both for­eign min­is­ters — Ukraine’s Dmytro Kuleba and Ger­many’s Heiko Maas — have vis­ited each other’s coun­tries in 2020. “Our for­eign min­is­ters get along re­ally well,” she noted.

“The so­cial me­dia team did won­ders dur­ing those weeks and months when we were in com­plete lock­down. We de­vel­oped ways to spread the word of Ger­many around Ukraine,” Feld­husen said.

Cre­ativ­ity will be put to the test for the fore­see­able fu­ture, since strict and pro­longed lock­downs in­flict too much eco­nomic dam­age.

“The pan­demic will be with us and per­haps even more so in Oc­to­ber,” she said.

Anka Feld­husen, Ger­many’s am­bas­sador to Ukraine, speaks with the Kyiv Post on Sept. 16, 2020, out­side in the court­yard of the Ger­man Em­bassy. It is lo­cated at 25 Bo­hdana Kh­mel­nyt­skoho St. in cen­tral Kyiv.1

Peo­ple gather out­side the Ber­lin Cathe­dral (Ber­liner Dom) il­lu­mi­nated as part of the yearly Fes­ti­val of Lights in Ber­lin on Sept. 14, 2020. The fes­ti­val of lights, an out­door light art gallery with more than 90 works of art in 86 lo­ca­tions spread over 168 square kilo­me­ters through­out Ber­lin, ran from Sept. 11-20.

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