Andrij Melnyk, Ukraine’s Ambassador to Germany
We are forced to pursue “wartime diplomacy"
17.01.2022 17:00

The role of Ukraine's ambassador to Germany, the EU's most powerful and influential nation, is not only honorable and responsible, but also truly challenging. That’s especially the case in the face of Russia’s ongoing aggression against Ukraine, given Berlin’s special sentiments as regards Moscow. At this difficult time, Andrij Melnyk sees his diplomatic service as a kind of battle. The battle to defend Ukraine’s interests…

We spoke with the Ambassador on the eve of the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between Ukraine and Germany, as well as a month ahead of the 7th anniversary of the Normandy Four summit. Andrij Melnyk sat down with Ukrinform to speak about the said issues, as well as to elaborate on the expectations of the new German government, his relations with the media, and much more.


- Mr. Ambassador, January 17 marks the 30th anniversary of the establishment of diplomatic relations between our countries. Could you bring it down to a few sentences, how are the two nations approaching this date?

- In short, in my opinion, the main result is that not only have we returned once and for all to the world’s political map – we are also perceived by German society as a truly full-fledged independent nation, which is being increasingly noticed, whose loud voice is being heard, and which is actually being reckoned with. We’ve really managed to make a strong statement about ourselves: the German political elite, the journalistic beau monde, local experts and, above all, ordinary Germans are well aware that there is a country named Ukraine that has its own goals, confidently walking its own path. We can be really proud of that.

Another question is, does Berlin always hear us out? The biggest challenge, I believe, is that Ukraine is still not fully understood as the Germans sometimes believe that Germany can easily afford not to take into account the interest of our country as an independent player in international politics. I think this is our main shortcoming of the last 30 years: we are yet to assert ourselves as a great civilized European nation, as an influential actor in history. And it’s on this that political recognition largely depends.

Our Independence is a little more than three decades old, but we’ve been represented here in Germany for quite a while. More than 100 years ago, Ukraine already had its diplomatic mission in Berlin, which worthily represented our interests – also in hellish conditions, as Russia was trying to destroy our statehood.

As long as our history is viewed through the prism of Russia or other colonial powers, all our justified political demands will be met with restraint

I guess pretty much everyone praises cultural diplomacy today, but in reality, we, as a state, are not doing enough. Take Germany… You should agree that it doesn’t need to promote its philosophers, writers, artists, and composers, while it still annually spends, through the Foreign Ministry budget alone, more than EUR 1 billion on promoting its cultural heritage. A billion! This is about 17% of the ministry’s total budget. Meanwhile, our expenditures on cultural diplomacy still barely reach 0.17%, that is, in relative terms, Germany spends a hundred times more. Although in reality, it should be the other way around.

Until we radically change this approach, until the masterpieces of Ukrainian composers become an integral part of the repertoire of opera houses and philharmonics in Germany and across the world, until German students learn about our writers and poets, both classic and contemporary, as long as our history is viewed through the prism of Russia or other colonial powers - all our justified political demands will be met with the same restrained reaction as is often the case today, unfortunately. These things are really interconnected.

So, the Germans see us as a unique and truly independent nation and a state that arouses interest or admiration, but only today, very slowly, are they beginning to recognize Ukrainians as a full-fledged actor in history.

- Perhaps we are perceived as an object of international politics in the orbit of Russia's interests… Is such a perception still in place?

- The remnants of such a post-colonial perception of Ukraine are still often manifested in German society, unfortunately. However, this isn’t in the sense that we are in any way dependent on Moscow, not at all. On the contrary - there is a very clear distinction between Ukraine and Russia. The Germans are actually well aware of Leonid Kuchma's textbook postulate, "Ukraine is not Russia" – they understand it very literally. And that's great.

But it really drives me crazy when I still, sometimes, get to read in the German press references of Ukraine as of "a post-Soviet republic."


- But, to be honest, the interest in Ukraine over the past years was caused mostly by the Maidan and then by the war… You have been working in Berlin for seven years, so how is the public attitude towards us changing?

- You’re right: indeed, it was the Maidan that caused a quality new surge of interest in Ukraine on the part of German public and political elite. And that's great. This spirit of the Revolution of Dignity is still there in how the Ukrainians are viewed in Germany – despite all those flows of dirt spat out by Kremlin propaganda, attempting to compromise our craving for freedom.

But you are also, unfortunately, right that in recent years, it’s Moscow's war against Ukraine that’s been in the main public spotlight. This war has of course become a shocker, a cold shower – not only for the Ukrainians but also for the Germans, although this shock is being watered down lately as the German public is getting used to this lingering state of the Russo-Ukrainian war. And this is really awful.

After all, this war, even if it doesn’t totally block Ukraine’s movement along its strategic tracks of true international recognition, it certainly hampers it, holding us off from achieving our main goals – NATO membership ("which is hardly possible as long as the armed conflict continues"), the EU membership (similar logic here), and further economic development (try to persuade German investors to invest in a country that Putin is constantly threatening to invade).

That is why this Russian war must be put to an end as soon as possible.

- What did we do wrong on the foreign policy track, in particular, on the German one? Germany says it has been on our side throughout these eight years; Merkel personally succeeded to ensure overnight February 12, 2015, that a package of measures to implement the Minsk Protocol is signed (rumor has it that following 17 hours of talks in Minsk, she said none of the Normandy Four leaders would leave the room until the document was signed), and suddenly it turns out that the Merkel government, behind our backs, had been blocking supplies of defensive arms from other NATO allies through certain channels within the bloc, and so on… Perhaps we expected too much from Berlin and tried not to notice what we didn’t want to see?

- Well, first of all, let's not dramatize. We’re always a bit too emotional when hearing such news.

- But that’s outrageous…

- To us, anything might seem outrageous these days... And this human emotion is more than understandable when you rely on your friend, trusting him almost blindly. And then – Bang! At the same time, you don’t even consider the idea that your friend also has his own pragmatic interests. And that they can be diametrically opposed to ours.

This was, to a certain extent, our naivety (which, by the way, remains in place in many cases), when we believed that our partners would settle everything for us – moreover, in line with the Ukrainian vision. We delegate to others the mandate to resolve overly complicated situations. At the same time, we sometimes forget that we are dealing with one of the most powerful nations, which pursues its own national interests and has a very complex history, which directly involves Ukraine as well.

Angela Merkel's initiative, which she launched seven years ago, was truly a historic act. Germany decided to do this without anyone asking it to…

- But why did Merkel do it? Was it because Germany felt it was most responsible in Europe as the most powerful nation?

- The Chancellor has now retired from politics and I’d like to believe she will one day write a book about it. I think the world would benefit if Ms. Merkel releases her memoirs.

What her motivation was, we can only guess. I think that the main stimulus was most likely her desire to prevent a full-scale war in the heart of Europe, which would surely have affected Germany as well. It was a kind of instinct to prevent a major global catastrophe, to avoid a humanitarian tragedy – with inevitable consequences for Berlin including.

As paradoxical as it may sound, the Germans were not particularly touched by this Russian intervention. In general, they don’t have a sense that this bloody war in the heart of our continent is still going on. There wasn’t even a mass influx of refugees from Ukraine to Germany, although some had initially intimidated the local public with them (there were actually several thousand asylum seekers, of whom, according to our estimates, about a hundred were granted it).

So we’re having this really absurd situation where almost eight years into the Russian war, which has been raging on Ukrainian soil day and night, just a two-hour-flight away from Berlin, it didn’t pull the strings of the vibrant German society, didn’t touch its aching nerve.

So, the primary motivation was to prevent a major war, to localize it. At that time, Merkel acted in the interests of Europe, Ukraine, but also in the interests of Germany, using her personal contacts with Putin.


- And engaging France…

- I think French President Francois Hollande got engaged because it would be too difficult to launch such large-scale issues alone.

This German-French tandem was, in fact, the first serious test of how successful the European engine could be politically or economically, as well as whether it’s able to play a key security role.

Of course, some may speculate on some other motivations, noting that Ms. Merkel used to visit Donetsk during her student years. So yes, there were nuances that might have concerned her personally and could have worked out as well.

Apparently, a touch of sympathy to the Ukrainians was added as the people were fighting for their dignity – because the scars of the Maidan were still quite fresh, and the shock of the blitz annexation of Crimea lingered. It is possible that the Chancellor was guided by idealistic goals to really help, not to allow Putin to seize even more territories from Ukraine. After all, we do remember those events very well: in the summer it was Ilovaisk, in January 2015, it was Debaltseve and the Donetsk airport...

So I think some altruistic motives were also there.

Also, this could as well be a really spontaneous decision. So we should actually just be grateful for Merkel's peace initiative. Although it’s too early, of course, to come up with any final assessments, as Russia's aggression is now in full swing, never stopping for a moment. Today, however, the flames of the Kremlin's Big War may flare up even brighter.

Why has Ms. Merkel failed to bring the case to a successful conclusion over these seven years? There is no unambiguous answer to this question yet.

- She also failed to convene another Normandy summit before the end of her term in office, although she really wanted to do so…

- For Angela Merkel, the last months of her cadence were – in terms of her personal perception of the ongoing war – probably quite bitter. Putin once again deceived her by promising to go for that Normandy Four summit. I don’t think Ms. Merkel is now comfortable either, realizing that Russia's Leviathan hasn’t abandoned its threats to destroy Ukraine's statehood.

It is Germany and the Chancellor who have personally played a key role in recent years as the sole mediator, along with Paris. That is why Berlin is also responsible for the fact that the peace talks in the Normandy Four have reached a stalemate, for the fact that we are all facing the shattered "Minsk trough." It was neither the Americans nor the Brits who ran day-to-day crisis management.

So, perhaps, there was a certain naivety on our part when Ukraine relied too much on the genius of the German mind. Although we have seen from the very first days that the Minsk agreements are full of contradictions, that it would be a real Sisyphean work to implement this document exactly as it was formulated.


- Merkel has repeatedly stated that the Ukraine settlement is a personal matter for her. The new government has already said that Germany has a special responsibility for the Normandy format. But to what extent do you think the new government will be interested in continuing mediation?

- Although the Normandy format isn’t mentioned in the coalition agreement, the new government has signaled from the very first days that Berlin is ready to take additional steps to revive this important negotiating platform. And that's really good news. At the same time, the negative experience of the past can’t be ignored either. After all, Germany has dared to "settle" not just another armed conflict: it is the biggest military challenge to European and world security since World War II, where one of the sides, for the first time, is a permanent member of the UN Security Council with a veto right.

Germany surely understood that this is top-notch diplomatic art, a real "Bundesliga of international politics." So when you say "A," you need to anticipate both "B" and "C" to bring the case to a successful conclusion.

After all, it became clear – at least for me personally – that the Normandy process began to stall in the autumn of 2015, right after Russia went for a large-scale military intervention in Syria. It was then that (Russian Foreign Minister Sergei - ed.) Lavrov, right there at the Normandy negotiating table, boasted that he had just received a call from U.S. Secretary of State (John - ed.) Kerry, that Russia was “back in the game.” It is since Russia launched the Syria military campaign that the great Russian-American strategic bargain began.

And from that time on, everything that happened in the Normandy format has been becoming more and more formal. The feeling that Russia is really interested in implementing the Minsk agreements has vanished. I don't think the mediators in the Normandy Four failed to notice themselves that all the positive dynamics just changed at one point. I well remember all those numerous meetings and talks in Berlin throughout 2015, almost every two weeks, the atmosphere that prevailed when Russia was literally trapped in a corner, forced to maneuver, offer something, and negotiate. Really full-fledged negotiations were underway. After the invasion of Syria, the process formally remained in place, but the moment was gone. It’s hard for me to say why Germany didn’t adjust its mediation mission, while sensing these things as they were unfolding…

- In Germany, there was a refugee crisis at the time. By the way, it was Merkel who let them into the country without consulting anyone, driven by emotion…

- But it's all interconnected. Where did all the hundreds of thousands of refugees come from? The lion's share was precisely from Syria, where Russia had started a new large-scale bloody war. I think some insider data will emerge later, which will bring to the surface everything that now remains unclear.

By the way, many German observers believe that this refugee crisis marked the beginning of the dusk of Merkel's political era.

All these events obviously had a negative impact on the Normandy format, which very often worked at idle.

It’s too early to say what will happen next. It’s unlikely that the coalition deal says nothing about the Normandy Four purely "by accident." After all, the new government understands that the successful continuation of this mediation mission will inevitably mean a radical change in strategy and tactics, and that it should provide for a much more aggressive, proactive, and tough stance towards the Kremlin than it was during the Grand Coalition (CDU/CSU and SPD - ed.).


- But Chancellor Scholz has repeated many times that the format needs to be revived, and even announced, albeit vaguely, that a meeting will be held soon…

- Undoubtedly, this new rhetoric by new Chancellor Olaf Scholz and new Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock is positive. It’s good that the Normandy Four lives on, at least in words. The inner feeling that Germany must do something is out there. But suggesting what comes out of it is like reading coffee grounds. After all, the fact is that the position of the Russians hasn’t changed at all. Putin has no will to personally sit down at the negotiating table in the Normandy format.

Last Monday, for the first time in seven years, both foreign policy advisers, German Chancellor’s Jens Plotner and French President’s Emmanuel Bonn, arrived in Kyiv at the personal invitation of President Zelensky’s Office chief Andriy Yermak. This is a very good signal. After all, their predecessors have never been to Ukraine, no matter how much we persuaded them.

We should agree: how can such complex and delicate negotiations be run at all if the mediators never came to Kyiv or Donbas, did not sense this terrifying spirit of war, the moods that prevail in the East on the line of demarcation?

By the way, they’ve been to Moscow before…

The question is, will the new government in Berlin be able to change anything? Despite all circumstances, I am convinced that there is a chance to achieve a breakthrough in the negotiations. Chancellor Scholz, who is beginning to shape his priorities in the foreign policy sphere, could show a new strategic initiative, new leadership, and do more, much more than his predecessor. Not least because German interests have also suffered. It is difficult to imagine how painful this topic can be for Germany - to go down in history as a state that failed the mediation mission, which it initiated.


- Germany recently had a new government appointed. It is clear that the first foreign contacts were with the country’s strategic partners. Is there at least an approximate plan for high-level and senior-level reciprocal visits between our two countries?

- We have been actively working on this since the new government was being formed. There is a clear understanding that our President Volodymyr Zelensky will visit Berlin this year. I hope that Chancellor Scholz will pay his first visit to Ukraine as soon as possible.

Minister Annalena Baerbock will visit Kyiv on January 17 and fly to Moscow only after a common negotiating position has been clearly agreed upon.

The first foreign visit of one of the leaders of the German Foreign Ministry – Minister of State Tobias Lindner – took place ti Ukraine, on the ninth day after a new coalition was formed in Berlin. This is also a positive signal.

I have already mentioned the visit of Chancellor Plötner's aide. In short, this political year will definitely be very, very busy.

- At the head of the ruling coalition are the Social Democrats, known for their "special vision" of Russia policies, let's not forget about Ex-Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder... The "Greens," who prior to joining the coalition had been much more critical of the Kremlin, now somewhat "softened” their rhetoric. What can Ukraine expect from the Traffic Light coalition, given what we have seen in the first month and a half of its work? It has been suggested that the Ukrainian-Russian bloc of issues may shake it. Will our best friends in the coalition, the Greens, surrender their positions in order to retain power?

- Unfortunately, the first month confirms this observation. At this stage, the preservation of the coalition and its normal functioning is the highest priority for all three parties (Social Democrats, Greens, and Liberals - ed.).

For us, this is a very bitter thing to hear because it is already being manifested in a number of key topics for Kyiv, especially regarding the fate of Nord Stream 2. This project was deliberately put within the brackets of the coalition agreement precisely in order not to split it.

It is already being manifested almost daily. Here the positions of individual ruling parties really remain radically opposite. Certification is being reviewed by an independent regulator, the Federal Network Agency, which is a purely technical process, but I fear that clear political assessments and accountability for the fate of this instrument of Putin's policy are unlikely to be avoided, especially since the process itself is already being dragging for months.

Therefore, this topic will continue to be an irritant for the coalition’s work.

- Nord Stream 2 certification will most likely not have been completed by summer. Europe is frightened by the jump in energy prices, while the Russians offer to release gas as early as today. And everyone is constantly asking whether Berlin is ready to put the project to a halt in case of aggression - in accordance with the July 2021 German-American pact, on which German politicians stubbornly avoid commenting.

- Indeed, so far none of the new leaders in Germany has said openly that, should Russia unleash a new big war against Ukraine, Nord Stream 2 will be completely removed from the agenda. There are only delicate hints, and all this is done in a kind of Aesopian language. It is painful and bitter to hear.

After all, the situation has made a U-turn since last summer, when the relevant German-American agreement was signed. At that time, hundreds of thousands of Russian troops had not yet been amassed along our borders and in Crimea, there was no new Putin track aimed at flipping upside down the entire post-war security architecture in Europe and the world.

Some believe that back then the compromise, which by the way was reached behind Kyiv’s back, could still be justified. At the same time, Russia has raised stakes so high that continuing to ignore Nord Stream 2 means continuing to ignore the legitimate security interests of Ukraine and other Eastern European nations.

We can predict that the issue will be one of the most sensitive ones for the new coalition.

By the way, there are still chances that there will be some big real breakthrough. But they are really meager.


- Under the terms of the same July agreement between Germany and the United States, Germany has pledged to help us develop renewables. However, the promised amounts aren’t very impressive. There was also talk of cooperation on hydrogen. Are there any concrete steps in this regard? Announcing Baerbock's visit, her spokesman mentioned she would talk about it in Kyiv.

- By the way, this is also another major issue. So far there’s been nothing concrete in this regard.

Just these days, the first meeting of the representatives of the Ukrainian side with Parliamentary Secretary of State Oliver Krischer took place in the Ministry of Economy and Climate Protection, headed by the chairman of the "Greens," Robert Habeck. We are assured that the new government will eventually break the deadlock.

Until now, everything was really going very tight. Back in August 2020, we initiated and formally launched a bilateral energy partnership. But in reality, say, on the hydrogen track, we haven’t made much progress, despite all our diplomatic efforts. We have never felt that Berlin is ready to consider cooperation with Ukraine in the field of green energy as a strategic priority.

Literally until the last days of the previous government's term, we almost desperately hit our heads against the wall, but we just couldn’t move the issue forward. We hope that the new "traffic light" government will radically change this approach.

- With bilateral trade, everything looks better. Despite the pandemic, Ukrainian exports to Germany grew last year. What’s the latest data?

- There’s no statistics for the whole year yet. In the first nine months, our trade in goods and services increased by 16.4%, to $7.3 billion, while Ukrainian exports to Germany were up 40%, to $2.5 billion.

Investment in the first half of 2021 grew more than $533 million: both in new investment and reinvested profit.

In total, there are currently more than 3,400 German companies operating in Ukraine, which have already created about 60,000 jobs.


- For the second year in a row, the Embassy of Ukraine in Germany ranked best among our diplomatic missions as "the most productive one in representing and protecting the interests of Ukraine abroad." A total of 104 leading experts and journalists voted. So I congratulate you as I fully agree with the assessment. You are without a doubt the most proactive ambassador, engaged with the media here in Berlin. Do you often hear reproaches or "advice" from German official institutions to be "quieter"?

- Everyone has grown accustomed to the idea that diplomacy should remain quiet, behind the scenes, somewhere on the sidelines… In fact, it really is, including here in Berlin.

And no one has abandoned this classic diplomacy: on the contrary, right now we hold a lot of personal meetings on a daily basis, at which we explain Ukraine's position very clearly, offering our arguments and emotions, trying to enlist Germany’s support. Believe me, all this is happening non-stop, we’re not living in some kind of media bubble, as some may suggest.

But for almost eight years in a row, Russia has been waging war against Ukraine. This also poses unprecedented challenges for our foreign policy service. In fact, we are forced to conduct new “wartime diplomacy,” especially in Germany, which plays a key role in stopping Russian aggression. After all, it is critical for us to draw the German public to our side, to make it our main ally, to increase public pressure on the German government on issues where officials in Berlin, unfortunately, still stick to a restrained position: it’s about their recognition of Ukraine's EU accession prospects, promotion of our NATO membership, supplies of defensive weapons, more aggressive mediation efforts by Germany in N4, and putting to a halt the Nord Stream 2 pipe, and Berlin’s historical responsibility to the Ukrainian people for the crimes of Nazism, the recognition of the Holodomor, and about many other hot topics. Of course, all this media activity in Berlin often irritates the ruling elites because we often step on their painful blisters.

So it’s not surprising that my numerous interviews and comments for the German media (their number exceeded 700, having reached a huge audience of more than a billion readers or listeners), to put it mildly, are not always admired and even less met with enthusiasm or positive emotions among Berlin’s political elite. When you raise such issues in meetings behind closed doors and our positions are not aligned, our German partners politely listen to some request put forward by Kyiv, nod their heads, as if they heard us... and then do nothing. When these issues are raised in the press, the officials are forced to react, to explain why Ukraine is so stubbornly denied, for example, the provision of defensive weapons. And they have to explain this not only to us, but also to the general public, in a public manner.

I can't reveal all secrets, I'll just say that more than once in Berlin I was gently hinted at and often openly advised to "slow down a bit” our media component of diplomacy. As if one shouldn't act like that. Sometimes they complain directly to Kyiv, this also happens.

But the main thing is that we have full carte blanche and trust from the state leadership. So we aren’t going to stop there. This is the answer to our German friends, which doesn’t make them very happy: we are forced to conduct ‘wartime diplomacy’ because we can’t act otherwise. After all, it’s a question of life and death, to be or not to be.

It was in Germany that I really felt that the media was really the fourth branch of power – that’s without any exaggeration.

I’ll say at once that we never cross any red lines, we act exclusively within the existing rules, we never abuse freedom of press and speech, but we use all the tools that we have available. After all, we cannot afford to bring in suitcases with millions of euros to hire lobbyists who would do our work for us on the sidelines.


- Whom of the incumbent leaders have you already met so far?

- We have launched an extremely pro-active campaign to establish contacts with all newly elected members of the Bundestag (except the far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, with which we have ceased all communication). I sent a personal greeting address to each of the 709 lawmakers, with the exception of the AfD, with an offer to meet in person. It’s good that the vast majority responded immediately, so the schedule of my contacts with the new legislators is full for the next month.

Recent important meetings include those with the newly elected President of the Bundestag, Ms. Barbel Bass (Social Democrat), the Foreign Minister, Bundestag member Tobias Lindner, and the aforementioned Secretary of State for Economic Affairs Oliver Krischer (both in the Green Traffic Light coalition.

But we also maintain extremely close contacts with the largest opposition faction, the CDU/CSU bloc. This is a separate important track. What’s in it for us? First, they were in power just a month ago and they had determined the fate of Germany for decades; they have experience, expertise, and understanding, they see mistakes the new government is making.

Secondly, I think that with Ms Merkel's departure from the political forefront, the Christian Democrats will definitely be able to do for Ukraine no less, and perhaps more, than before. For example, the first foreign policy plenary debate in the Bundestag of the new convocation, which took place the day after the government was appointed on December 9, devoted to Ukraine and the new threat of Russian invasion, we managed to set up thanks to our conservative friends. A new party leader will be elected by the end of January, most likely this will be Friedrich Merz, with whom we have yet to establish close, trusting contact. But we’re very optimistic.

Germany has all the trump cards in its hands to play a truly historic role and enable Ukraine's membership in the European Union and NATO

Returning to your question about what hasnєt been achieved in Berlin, I must admit that my calculation to establish as much contact as possible with ordinary members of the previous so-called Grand Coalition (CDU/CSU-SPD), especially those who are not involved in foreign policy, to form a minimum consensus and then, through these votes, to adjust the basic course Germany pursues on topics that are strategic for Kyiv – Ukraine’s membership in NATO and the EU – didn’t work out. Chancellor Merkel did not deviate from the path. It was a bit of a disappointment, although, of course, I don’t regret for a second that all these contacts – which is hundreds of lawmakers with whom we managed to establish a personal relationship of trust, took place. After all, their vast majority was re-elected and joined the new Bundestag. The role of the opposition will be no lower, and perhaps even more important. And we must not forget that new elections will take place in less than four years, so everything is changing very quickly.

This is a really big chess game.

The main thing for us is that the Ukrainian interest is understood better, that our voice is heard and acted upon. Germany has all the trump cards in its hands to play a truly historic role and enable Ukraine's membership in the European Union and NATO.

We remain optimistic and are working hard to adjust Berlin's strategic lines.

Olga Tanasiichuk, Berlin

Photo by author


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