Coalition partners – Merkel v Gabriel (and Ukraine)August 24, 2014
This blog has mentioned before the internal divisions within the German political establishment over Ukraine and its future.
Despite ill-conceived, merit-less and indeed pointless attacks on Chancellor Merkel as “Frau Ribbentrop” by the clearly unenlightened and retarded, she remains Ukraine’s biggest ally in German politics.
She is in a consistent battle with the very dovish and Kremlin-centric Social Democrat Party that are her coalition partners, who still seem overly/blindly keen to extend the Ostpolitik policy to a Kremlin that has quite clearly given the impression it has no interest in becoming more “European”. Instead the impression is that it intends to become uniquely “Russian” – included in that goal are all those whom it considers to be “Russian” even if they are not within Russia itself, and also including a reassessment of the laws and treaties it is ratified signatories of, with a view to leaving those agreements – when not ignoring them as is politically expedient.
Whether Ostpolitik can continue with a Kremlin that unilaterally decides who and what is “Russian” and what laws and treaties it will and will not abide by, and when it will abide by them, remains to be seen.
Today, Sigmar Gabriel, Social Democrat Minister of Economic Affairs and Energy, stated Ukraine should forget about Crimea and get on with the process of federalisation. Something Chancellor Merkel, in Kyiv today, was forced to row back upon, making clear the difference between decentralisation in Ukraine, which she supports (as do the UK and many others), and its federalisation that she clearly doesn’t support.
She stated “Germany is pushing for decentralisation. But there are some problems – if we’re talking about the German federalisation, in Ukraine it is understood in a different way, it may damage the integrity of Ukraine. What we meant by the federalisation of Ukraine is called decentralization, and this is also the aspiration of the President of Ukraine.”
Quite right too.
Aside from the obvious, where any formal federalisation simply breaks up Ukraine into bite-sized chunks for The Kremlin, should it fancy an expansionist spurt at any time – anything directly and officially attributed to the word “federalisation” simply will not fly within the Ukrainian electoral consituency.
Since the invasion and illegal annexation of Crimea, “One Ukraine” has been the motto of the nation. Television channels carry a small graphic stating as much in the corner of the screen. Politicians, journalists and academics espouse the same “Ukrainian unity” message.
People have volunteered to fight, and have died for, an independent united Ukraine – and they will continue to do so. The public have donated tens of millions of dollars to support the army fighting under the banner of a united and independent Ukraine.
Any official language using the word or any directly identifiable form of legislative federalisation adopted would be seen as appeasement of The Kremlin, who muted and then pushed the idea of a “Federal Ukraine” in early February, even prior to the ouster of former President Yanukovych. It would be political suicide for any Ukrainian politician to try an formally federalise the nation through legislative acts and using that particular word. Public opinion of The Kremlin is (unsurprisingly) at an all time low, whilst public solidarity around the ideal of a sovereign, independent and united Ukraine is at an all time high since independence.
As such any internal or external politician commenting upon Ukraine with even the slightest feel for the public mood, would at the very least shy away from using the word “federalisation”, or more wisely make deliberate statements against using the word, painfully making the point that decentralisation/devolution of power is an entirely different concept. As Chancellor Merkel made clear, Germany is not in favour of the federalisation of Ukraine, any more than Ukrainians are – despite those being the words of the dovish Mr Gabriel.
The devolution of power is not dependent upon federalisation. Decentralisation, whatever that may actually mean, or more accurately the devolution of more power to the regions, is what the nation wants – but within the parameters of a united and whole Ukraine that is not formally federalised, as either Americans, Russians or Germans understand it. It is quite possible that the best bits of the German system will be mimicked in whatever any new Ukrainian system may be – but it will be done through legislative acts that formally – and deliberately so – rebuff and refuse the word federalisation, or present almost autonomous bite-sized chunks for aggressors.
As for Mr Gabriel’s comment about “forgetting Crimea” – one can only hope that was said in the context of not allowing the current situation to prevent political and legislative progress across the rest of the nation. It would be far more than dovish to have actually meant to literally forget about Crimea – it would be nothing less than a Kremlin apologist statement, acknowledging might is right and that The Kremlin can ignore international law and rules that it is ratified signatories to, as and when it feels like it.
That Chancellor Merkel felt it necessary to underline once again today in Kyiv that the annexation of Crimea was and is illegal, hopefully has far more to do with being a sign of solidarity with both Ukraine and the rule of international and regional law, than it is to do with having to correct Mr Gabriel’s stance on the issues.
Whatever the case, the impression the Social Democrats have projected in Ukraine over the past months, is one that Ukraine need make solid and consolidated progress toward security, defence, independence and democratic gains prior to Chancellor Merkel’s retirement in 2 or 3 years time – particularly so when considering President Putin is seems likely to remain in power long after Mrs Merkel retires, without any change to the goals The Kremlin has for Ukraine.