Kiev, Ukraine (AP) – Chancellor Angela Merkel tried on Sunday to press ahead with stalled peace efforts for eastern Ukraine, underscoring Germany’s pledge not to let Russia use a new gas pipeline as a “weapon” on what is likely her last visit to Ukraine as Ukraine Germany’s front runner.
Merkel’s trip took place two days after her visit to Moscow to meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin. The Chancellor is not running in the federal election next month and is nearing the end of her almost 16-year leadership in Germany.
At a joint press conference with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Selenskyj on Sunday, Merkel spoke out in favor of holding a meeting of heads of state and government between Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France on the situation in eastern Ukraine, the first since the end of 2019.
“I think that would help us progress if we can work out a good agenda – our advisors should do that,” she said. “I am pleased that President Zelenskyi is ready for this.”
More than 14,000 people have died in the fighting between Ukrainian armed forces and Russian-backed rebels since 2014. Germany and France have worked to broker a peaceful settlement of the conflict, including an often violated 2015 ceasefire agreement in Minsk, Belarus.
Zelenskyi said Kiev is seeking a permanent ceasefire in eastern Ukraine, prisoner exchanges, open crossings on the contact line and Red Cross access to the conflict area. He supported the idea of a meeting, but urged Kiev’s western partners to put pressure on Russia to move forward in eastern Ukraine.
“As long as there is no progress, the pressure on Russia should continue. We want to see active efforts from our western partners, ”said Zelensky.
Merkel stated that some of the goals mentioned by Zelenskyj, such as “the opening of further border crossings or other humanitarian issues, have not yet been implemented, which is placing a heavy burden on the process”.
“However, one has to keep saying: We currently have no other format in which we can discuss these things, and that is why we should continue to work here,” said Merkel.
She expected the next German government to “work in the same spirit” with Ukraine, to insist that the country regain its territorial integrity and continue internal reforms.
The Chancellor also spoke about the merits of a US-German deal last month to allow the completion of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany without imposing US sanctions on German companies.
Ukraine is against the project, and Zelensky called it Russia’s geopolitical “weapon” on Sunday.
“I believe this is a weapon and it is wrong not to see it as a weapon,” he said. “The start will lead to great risks and play into the hands of Russia.”
Merkel said she saw the German-American agreement “as an obligation of the German government to ward off President Zelenskyi’s concern about the use of energy as a weapon.” She said she took the concerns very seriously, citing Germany’s appointment as negotiator to secure an extension of an agreement on gas transit through Ukraine beyond 2024.
“It obliges future German governments to deal with this issue of energy security” and obliges Germany to renew Ukraine’s energy mix, said Merkel.
She also assured that Berlin “will advocate further sanctions within the European framework if this suspicion is confirmed that the pipeline is being used as a weapon”.
Zelenskyi, in turn, said Kiev has opened consultations with the European Parliament and the German government regarding the Nord Stream 2 pipeline. He added that the energy ministers of the United States, Germany and Ukraine will meet in Kiev on Monday.
The two leaders didn’t announce any groundbreaking agreements on Sunday, but that came as no surprise, said Kiev political scientist Volodymyr Fesenko.
“There weren’t any great expectations for Merkel’s visit,” Fesenko, head of the Penta Center think tank, told The Associated Press. “In a farewell handshake, the Chancellor tried to mitigate the unpleasant consequences that the agreements between Berlin and Moscow would have for Ukraine. At least deviate in words. “
Moulson reported from Berlin.