Sergii Leshchenko: US, Germany give no real guarantees to Ukraine
Vladimir Putin had a dream.
In 2005, during his annu‑ al address to Russia’s Federal Assembly, Putin called the collapse of the Soviet Union “the great‑ est geopolitical catastrophe” of the 20th century. For him, it was not World War II, nor the Holocaust, nor even the Hiroshima bombing or the Chornobyl disaster, but the end of the “evil empire” that marked for him the reset of the reality in which he was formed as a person.
And so as the goal of his rule in Russia, Putin decided to recreate the Soviet Union in a different form. He strived to bring the entire system of gas transportation to Europe, which crumbled after the collapse of the Soviet Union, under Moscow’s control.
In fact, Putin was sincere and open in his ambitions — they just needed to be interpreted correctly.
In 1997, Putin defended his thesis on “Strategic Planning of Mineral Resource Base Reproduction in the Region Under the Conditions of Market Relations Formation.” As it turned out, his thesis was mostly plagiarized. His ghostwriter was the rector of the St. Petersburg Mining University Vladimir Litvinenko. He eventually became a dollar bil‑ lionaire after acquiring shares at PhosAgro chemical company, one of the largest producers of phosphorus fertilizers in the world.
But while the thesis’ text was copy‑pasted, Putin’s paper was clearly approved by him because it reflected his worldview.
It highlights the idea that later formed the basis of his rule in Russia. In particular, the key concept of how the state should control not only oil and gas production but also its transportation and the pipeline system. This explains Gazprom’s entry into the transit systems of Belarus and Moldova, and attempts to take the Ukrainian system into a consortium, which Putin tried to get President Leonid Kuchma to agree to, and the decision to build Nord Stream 2 together with Germany.
Putin’s goal was to control the entire gas supply chain, which was his political weapon to curb neigh‑ boring countries and a leverage to influence Europe. In his thesis, Putin wrote that Russia inherited nothing from the collapse of the Soviet Union, because everything remained in Ukraine and in the Baltics. And that is why he reacted so jealously to any manifestations of the independence of these coun‑ tries because in his worldview they occurred solely due to the weakness of Russia. Putin’s task was to restore the gas transit system to Europe, ending the dependence on Ukraine.
That’s why, for Putin, building Nord Stream 1 and Nord Stream 2 meant more than just a sta‑ ble cash flow for his inner cir‑ cle. And they have indeed gotten rich from the construction, includ‑ ing Stroygazmontazh — a company belonging to Arkady Rotenberg, Putin’s judo sparring partner and the one responsible for the construction of the Crimean Bridge, also called the Kerch Strait Bridge, another anti‑Ukrainian project. The Nord Stream was not just a project to employ former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, so far the highest recruited agent of Russian influence. This project was the opening of a new window to Europe, which in his own eyes raised Putin to the level of Emperor Peter I.
But the downside is a new geo‑ political reality that exposes the weaknesses and empties the pockets of the U.S. key partners in Europe — Ukraine and Poland.
Nord Stream 2 leaves Ukraine, a country in the heart of Europe, which has been a victim of Russian military aggression for seven years, without annual revenue of over $1 billion.
Ukraine’s exclusion from the gas supply chain increases the risks of full‑fledged military expansion by
Russia, which will no longer be con‑ strained by the threat of disrupting its gas supplies to Europe in case of a major military escalation in Ukraine.
The ease with which the U.S. administration struck a deal to allow completion of the controver‑ sial Russian pipeline is striking and alarming.
The agreement between President Joe Biden and Chancellor Angela Merkel will be a moment of truth for Ukraine that might finally realize that in real politics everyone is left on their own.
As for the guarantees set out in the joint statement of the U.S. and German governments, their rea‑son‑ ing is questionable.
Let’s take sanctions against Russia in case of aggression against Ukraine: If Russia harms Ukraine in the midst of January deep freeze, how will Germany impose sanctions and restrict Russian gas con‑sump‑ tion through Nord Stream 2, when heating and electricity in the homes of German citizens and other European nations at stake.
And trust me, right after Merkel hung up after telling Putin about the deal with the U.S., Putin had calculated the scenarios of how to deceive Washington, Brussels and Kyiv.
Germany’s idea to press Russia to extend by 10 years a transit agree‑ ment through Ukraine also does not have concrete points other than appointing a special authorized offi‑ cial. What will be the amount of gas pumped for 10 years remains unclear. Nord Stream 2 will start operating this year, and the extend‑ ed contract will start operating in 2024. Will Germany, together with Russia, pressure Ukraine into agree‑ ing to anything that’s offered? And most importantly: 10 years of addi‑ tional transit is only a short delay of the death of the unique system of main pipelines and underground gas storage facilities in Ukraine.
The U. S.‑Germany agreement doesn’t tie together the two key things — the launch of Nord Stream 2 and guarantees for Ukraine. Investments of $1 billion in the Green Fund of Ukraine do not solve the problems that Ukraine will face. Of course, any aid is welcome, but this offer won’t give Ukraine confi‑ dence in the future.
US and Ukraine
The history of relations between Ukraine and the U.S. is full of positive experiences and assis‑ tance. There is no other nation that Ukrainians watch equally eagerly. They want to be like Americans, they see them as role models, they love American movies and music, and studying in America is a dream for millions of my compatriots.
What follows may sound offen‑ sive, but honesty is something that friends value.
The truth is, there were disap‑ pointing moments in our relation‑ ship. When, in 1991, a few months before the collapse of the Soviet Union, President George H. W. Bush called on Ukraine to remain part of the Soviet Union from the rostrum of the Verkhovna Rada and warned
against “murderous nationalism.”
Or when Ukraine, which gave up its nuclear weapons in return for security promises, faced Russian aggression, and the Barack Obama administration sent food rations and blankets instead of military aid.
Or when Ukraine, under pressure from Washington, refused to build a nuclear power plant in Iran under the Bushehr project, Russia instead completed the project and faced no consequences.
Or when Ukraine became a test‑ ing ground for the political technol‑ ogy of Paul Manafort and a pasture for American lobbyists who make money here by helping corrupt Ukrainian officials and oligarchs stay in power and keep robbing Ukraine.
The current situation, in which America is effectively abandoning the fight against Nord Stream 2, makes many Ukrainians feel reject‑ ed or even betrayed by their U.S. ally.
Our countries still have a chance to start a new page as strategic part‑ ners, but only if they receive real compensation and guarantees from the U.S.
Ukraine needs a great goal and real integration into European and
Euro‑Atlantic structures. And the compensation for the Nord Stream deal could be some of Kyiv’s long‑awaited decisions for which there is no political will among America’s allies: Ukraine’s receipt of NATO’s Membership Action Plan and EU candidate status. Statements that Ukraine must fight corruption for NATO membership cannot be an encouragement, but rather a demotivating one. Especially given the state of affairs in some NATO countries.
Ukraine’s acceptance in the NATO family would be an effective guaran‑ tee that Russia will not use the Nord Stream situation as an indulgence for further aggression.
And integration into the European Union will accelerate all the energy reforms that the U.S. and Germany are committed to guaranteeing in their joint statement.
Ukraine’s voice deserves to be heard in a conversation about our country’s fate.
Putin’s goal was to control the entire gas supply chain, which was his political weapon.