The chancellor goes to Kiev to reaffirm Germany's support for Ukraine
The country is preparing for the presidential elections, but within days the self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Lugansk will also go to votes on a new chapter of the hybrid war between Kiev and Moscow.
Whatever the outcome, the one-day visit to Kiev is the culmination of a week that will mark the history of Angela Merkel. On Monday, she announced that she will not re-apply to the leadership of her party, the CDU, but that, on the other hand, she intends to fulfill the mandate at the head of the coalition government by the end of 2021. Shockwaves were still raging in Europe when, the next day, the 64-year-old leader received 11 African leaders, in Berlin, in a meeting on business opportunities.
There were several demonstrations against the biggest African event in Germany: Germans and African immigrants protested against the fact that Merkel received rulers with a criticizable record of human rights violations, such as the presidents of Togo, Faure Gnassingbé, and Egypt, El-Sissi.
If Siemens and Volkswagen's businesses were sponsored by the German government, ignoring human rights and democratic values, on Thursday it is expected that Angela Merkel's agenda will focus mainly on political issues and support for Kiev, in a time when the self-proclaimed republics of Donetsk and Lugansk are preparing to hold elections, and the situation remains far from pacified.
On Merkel's second visit to Ukraine, the most important meeting is the first on the agenda, with President Petro Poroshenko. Following are the Prime Minister Volodymyr Groysman and finally the President of Parliament, Andriy Parubiy, accompanied by the leaders of the parliamentary benches.
"Special attention will be given to the situation in the Donetsk basin, the occupied Crimea, the Azov Sea and the Kerch Strait. The leaders will coordinate joint measures to ensure the implementation of the Minsk agreements and the strengthening of the international coalition against the ongoing Russian aggression," reads the official website of the presidency of Ukraine.
One event that may bring more instability is the electoral acts announced for the separatist regions of Donetsk and Lugansk on November 11. Jonathan Cohen, a United States diplomat at the UN, said that "the false elections staged by Russia" violate the Minsk agreements. Diplomats from France, Holland, Germany, Poland, Sweden, UK, Italy, Belgium and Germany criticized the idea in unison.
During the debate in the Security Council, Russia was isolated. Rosemary DiCarlo, the under-secretary-general for political affairs (the head of the political affairs of the UN), took sides with the Western countries, saying that the elections would be a violation of the Minsk agreement. And finally, a Lugansk separatist that Russia had taken to talk about the electoral process, was not allowed to speak.
Those de facto officials in the pro-Russian territories criticized the diplomats' arguments. "The elections are completely in line with the law of the republic and do not conflict with the Minsk agreements," said Natalya Nikonorova, Donetsk's foreign affairs official.
Sanctions under discussion
In face of Moscow's aggression, the European Union imposed sanctions on Russia in 2014. The latest business restrictions on the Russian banking, financial and energy sectors were renewed in June and expire in January. What power of persuasion will the German chancellor face, for example, from the Italian leadership, by the voice of Giuseppe Conte, who has already announced that he is against sanctions? This will be a dossier that can test Angela Merkel's leadership skills.
Another country that can join Italy is Viktor Orbán's Hungary. The illiberal and authoritarian drift of the Hungarian ruler has brought him closer to Putin. On the other hand, relations between Budapest and Kiev have deteriorated. The two countries expelled diplomats following the Hungarian consul issuing passports with Hungarian nationality to Ukrainian citizens of the Hungarian ethnic minority. According to the Constitution of Ukraine, citizens can only have one nationality.
Hungarian Foreign Minister Peter Szijjarto replied: "As long as Ukraine does not fulfill its obligations to NATO and the EU, we will veto all attempts to bring Ukraine closer to these two integrations."
"Vladimir Putin intends to freeze all the conflicts he has created: in Georgia, in Moldova and now in Ukraine. Its aim is to prevent the Ukrainian government from regaining control over its own territory, until the borders with Russia, including the Crimea." The commentary is by François Hollande, the predecessor of Emmanuel Macron, at a conference at the University of Mons, Belgium, on Tuesday.
François Hollande finished its term in the French presidency with historically low levels of popularity. But it was certainly not by the way he faced Vladimir Putin. For example, as a result of the Crimean invasion and destabilization along the Donetsk basin, he canceled the sale of two helicopter carriers to Moscow. With the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the Frenchman was part of the team that led the Russian leader and the Ukrainian one, Petro Poroshenko, to the Minsk agreements.
The second version of the agreements, of 2015, provided for a total truce in territories controlled by pro-Russian militias, withdrawal of heavy weapons as well as mercenaries and foreign forces, monitoring of OSCE measures, release of prisoners, constitutional reform in Ukraine that granted broad autonomy to Donetsk and Lugansk, which included "linguistic self-determination," the establishment of militias and cooperation with the Russian Federation.
The "non-establishment of the Minsk agreements" and "the dragging in the fight against corruption" mean that, in Hollande's view, Kiev is also responsible.
3.5 million Ukrainians need help
The warning is from UN Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs, Ursula Mueller: "Unfortunately, I report that millions of men, women and children continue to face dire consequences in Europe's forgotten armed conflict. These impacts are deepening as the situation becomes more protracted."
In a document sent to Secretary-General António Guterres on Tuesday, the German recalls that more than 3,000 civilians were killed and 9,000 injured since the beginning of the conflict, in 2014. The conflict has a single fact: it affects the "largest proportion of older people in the world, more than 30%."
But the endless crisis affects everyone. A disheartening scenario. "A line of contact of more than 400 kilometers divides the area of hostilities. Families near this line live in fear of bombings, sniper firings and widespread use of mines. Access to basic services is constantly interrupted. There is extensive damage to homes, hospitals, schools and other essential civilian structures. In 2018, more than 70 serious incidents have disrupted the vital supply of water to millions of people. Risk of communicable diseases increase due to water scarcity, deep damage to health facilities, lack of access to health care and extremely low immunization rates."
All accounts made, Mueller estimates that more than 3.5 million people need humanitarian aid in 2019. And more funds are needed to meet the needs.
The conflict on Ukrainian soil has killed more than 10,300 people since 2014. But the conflict can provoke another type of victim through another type of conflict: cyberattacks.
Hackers have infected three energy and transport companies in Ukraine and Poland with new sophisticated malware and may be planning destructive cyberattacks, ESET software security company said this week.
The answer was swift: the National Security and Defense Council, headed by President Petro Poroshenko, has set up a special body to prevent any attempt by Russia to influence next year's elections through the internet or cyberattacks.
Presidential elections are held in March and parliamentary elections in October.
"The experience of the United States and Western European countries shows that the Kremlin will try to influence elections using the cybernetic and informational space through socio-political processes," said Olexander Turchynov, secretary of the Council. "There are legitimate reasons to suppose that the Russian leadership will try, at any cost, to use the electoral process to execute plans for hybrid aggression against our state," he added.