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The common ground shared by Germany and Ukraine

18.01.2017 - Interview

The common ground shared by Germany and Ukraine

Joint article by Foreign Ministers Steinmeier and Klimkin: 25 years of diplomatic relations between Germany and Ukraine. Published in the Frankfurter Allgemeine newspaper on 18 January 2017.

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25 years ago, our two countries established diplomatic relations. This step had been preceded by political upheaval on an epic scale. Germany had been reunified, the Cold War had come to an end, the Soviet Union had collapsed, Ukraine had become an independent country ‑ the old order of Yalta had disappeared in the blink of an eye, and a new order was emerging.

But German-Ukrainian relations have a long history which began centuries before the fall of the Iron Curtain. There have been contacts between us for more than one thousand years, even if not all of them were to be desired. The war unleashed by Nazi Germany cost millions of Ukrainians their lives, and brought hunger, suffering and expulsions to the land. Some of the major battles are still known by the names of the Ukrainian towns they were fought in. The atrocities committed in the ravine of Babyn Yar 75 years ago still serve as a grim reminder of the need to do everything humanly possible to preserve the European order of peace.

It was far from self-evident that partnership and even friendship could ever grow from the ashes of war and from the enmity, violence and barbarity that had prevailed between Germans and Ukrainians.

Both sides were well aware of this when, on 17 January 1992, we established diplomatic relations. The first steps revealed a somewhat pioneering spirit: the German Consulate General established in Kyiv in 1989 was literally just a desk and a few chairs! On 2 February 1992 Germany became the first country to open an Embassy in Ukraine. The Ukrainian Embassy in Bonn was opened in March 1992.

Germany was the destination chosen for the first state visit by the first President of Ukraine, Leonid Kravchuk. At a reception in honour of the guest from Kyiv, Germany’s then President Richard von Weizsäcker spoke of the “diverse political, cultural, economic and human relationships” which should be built on ‑ notwithstanding the darker phases of the countries’ common past. He noted that there was no shortage of “areas for fruitful exchange and constructive cooperation.” And even back then, Richard von Weizsäcker stressed that: “The future of relations between the European Community and Ukraine is also on the agenda.”

Now, 25 years later, it is clear that Ukraine is not only geographically part of Europe. Our peoples share the bond of common values. The Ukrainians have repeatedly expressed their desire for democracy and the rule of law, freedom and good governance ‑ often while waving the European flag. It is our common goal for Ukraine to align itself yet more closely with European and Euro-Atlantic structures.

It is our common goal to see peace restored in Ukraine. We are working hard towards a settlement of the ongoing conflict in the Donbass. We condemn Russia’s illegal annexation of Crimea. Russia’s actions in the Donbass are also putting a question mark over our European order of peace. Germany and France are making a crucial contribution to de-escalation and stabilisation in connection with the implementation of the Minsk agreements, as mediators in the Normandy process.

We hope that the profound reforms in Ukraine will be successfully implemented. Ukraine can only have an EU perspective if its politics, society and economy are modernised, corruption is fought and legal certainty can be established for investors. Getting there won’t be easy. The path will at times be painful. But many steps have already been taken. Many good results have already been achieved. The fact that Ukrainian civil society has become an important stakeholder in the political process gives us cause for optimism. Greater transparency and substantive changes strengthen social cohesion and enhance the sustainability of the transformation.

This process will indubitably have to cope with repeated setbacks ‑ in much the same way as the first years following German reunification were far from easy. However, the profound reforms are already starting to have an impact and provide an incentive to continue down the chosen road.

The scale of Germany’s support for the reforms in Ukraine is unparalleled. Germany will continue to support Ukraine with great commitment. The association and free trade agreement with the EU is a powerfully effective motor for reform and modernisation. The basic political decision on visa-free travel to Europe has now been taken and soon such travel will also be a matter of course.

Cooperation between Germany and Ukraine has furthermore been significantly enhanced at economic, cultural and social level. There now exists a partnership and friendship between our two countries, the depth and extent of which nobody 25 years ago – let alone 75 years ago – could ever have imagined in real life, only in their dreams. Numerous town twinning arrangements, the opening of the German-Ukrainian Chamber of Commerce in Kyiv in October 2016 and the Year of the German and Ukrainian Languages in 2017/2018 are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to demonstrating the depth and diversity of our relations.

We have every reason to approach the next 25 years of cooperation, partnership and friendship with confidence and a thirst for fresh deeds.

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