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18th Ukraine Breakfast Debate: „German-Ukrainian Bilateral Relations: New Tendencies in Cooperation?”

What is the status quo of German-Ukrainian bilateral relations and what changes occurred during the first year of Volodymyr Zelensky’s presi­dency? How should these relations be shaped in the future to meet the expec­ta­tions of both sides? These questions were at the core of the 18th Ukraine Breakfast Debate on the topic „German-Ukrainian Bilateral Relations: New Tendencies in Cooper­ation?” that took place on 10 June 2020 in Berlin. For the first time, the Ukraine Breakfast Debate was held online, highlighting the impor­tance of a constant exchange on current devel­op­ments in the German-Ukrainian context.

This time, the presen­ta­tions and discus­sions were based on a policy paper that origi­nated from the cooper­ation between the Institut für Europäische Politik (IEP, Berlin) and the New Europe Center (NEC, Kyiv) and that was supported by the Open Society Founda­tions in the framework of the project „Europeanization beyond Process“. The paper was co-authored by Dr. Susan Stewart of the German Institute for Inter­na­tional and Security Affairs (SWP), Ljudmyla Melnyk of the Institut für Europäische Politik (IEP, Berlin) and senior project manager of GURN, and Alyona Getmanchuk and Sergiy Solodkyy from the New Europe Center (NEC, Kyiv). As a basis for the study, the co-authors conducted inter­views with high-level repre­sen­ta­tives of the political and societal sphere in Germany and Ukraine in February and March 2020. The policy paper’s publi­cation as well as the breakfast debate received kind support by the Berlin Policy Hub.

After Dr. Katrin Böttger, director at IEP, welcomed the partic­i­pants of the breakfast debate, Alyona Getmanchuk (NEC) went on with outlining the political prior­ities and expec­ta­tions of the Ukrainian side from the bilateral relations. What is Ukraine looking for in its German partner? Regarding the political prior­ities of the Ukrainian side, the inter­viewers found that the foreign policy approach under Zelenskyy shifted focus from searching for a political ally to mainly trying to attract foreign direct invest­ments. Finding a solution for the armed conflict in Donbas remains on top of the agenda on both sides. Dr. Susan Stewart (SWP, Berlin) further illus­trated the German perspective: As for the German side, the Ukrainian reform process is perceived to be the most important issue. In this regard, Zelenskyy’s approach to focus on the attraction of investors is viewed with scepticism – this approach could turn out unsuc­cessful if the Ukrainian government would stall further reforms to strengthen the rule of law. Slow progress in reforming the country is viewed to be an even more serious obstacle to investment than the war in Donbass, as Ljudmyla Melnyk (IEP, Berlin) additionally notes.

According to Sergiy Solodkyy (NEC, Kyjiw), the set of expec­ta­tions towards Germany includes the support for imple­men­tation of prisoner exchanges as well as for the Agreement on Conformity Assessment and Accep­tance of Indus­trial Products (ACAA). The fact that the German side puts special emphasis on the reform process does not constitute an obstacle to the German-Ukrainian relations, as Dr. Susan Stewart (SWP, Berlin) pointed out. She highlighted that the conjunction of reforms and invest­ments – rather than opposing these two – is key to the future relations between Ukraine and Germany.

Another important finding of the study is that the German side wishes for a more insti­tu­tion­alized form of commu­ni­cation between the two countries while Ukraine attaches more impor­tance to a personal touch in commu­ni­ca­tions. Due to this difference, percep­tions of success or failure also differ when it comes to assessing the bilateral commu­ni­cation. Furthermore, a lack of commu­ni­cation between individual Ukrainian government ministries is perceived to hinder successful cooperation.

During the breakfast debate, Ljudmyla Melnyk (IEP, Berlin) pointed to one interviewee’s suggestion that this obstacle could be overcome by reviving an annual, high-level commu­ni­cation format that had been estab­lished under former Ukrainian president Leonid Kuchma and Gerhard Schröder years ago.

In sum, Ukrainian-German relations remain an important, strategic foreign policy component for both countries, regardless of the differ­ences in prior­ities and expec­ta­tions that have been expressed by the inter­viewees. The continuous exchange on various levels, among others the good relationship between the two foreign ministers, Dmytro Kuleba and Heiko Maas, under­lines this reasoning.

The Ukraine Breakfast Debate series is part of the project “German Ukrainian Researchers Network” (GURN). GURN aims at estab­lishing a German-Ukrainian network for senior and junior researchers and their organi­za­tions, strength­ening country expertise and promoting joint cooper­ation projects. GURN is conducted in close cooper­ation with the Ilko Kucheriv Democ­ratic Initia­tives Foundation (DIF, Kyiv), the think tank devel­opment and research initiative „think twice UA” (Kyiv), the New Europe Center (NEC, Kyiv) and is kindly supported by the Federal Foreign Office.

The Berlin Policy Hub is part of the “Europeanization beyond process” initiative supported by the Open Society Founda­tions and aims to intensify exchanges between Eastern European think tanks and their German counter­parts and to facil­itate new forms of cooper­ation. The project gives researchers from Georgia, Moldova and the Ukraine the oppor­tunity to present their expertise and research results to a German audience, while at the same time gaining a better under­standing of the discourse within Germany on these topics.

The policy paper „Prior­ities and Expec­ta­tions from Ukraine and Germany: How to make bilateral relations more sustainable?“ is acces­sible here.