Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 135

On an official visit to Kyiv on July 8-9, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder publicly came out in favor of President Leonid Kuchma’s reelection in the October presidential contest in Ukraine. “With all due respect for Ukrainian voters’ right to choose, I would tell them that Kuchma stands for an independent Ukraine, for making sure that the country does not become dependent on another country,” Schroeder told the concluding news conference. Schroeder described Kuchma as a “statesman who strives to lead Ukraine toward Europe and whose efforts to that end ought to be appreciated. And I think that Ukrainian voters will take this into account when casting their ballots.”

The German Chancellor’s statement follows endorsements of Kuchma by Presidents Aleksander Kwasniewski of Poland and Haidar Aliev of Azerbaijan (see the Monitor, June 29, July 6). These three countries have a major stake in the continuation of Ukraine’s policy of independence from Russia and rapprochement with NATO. Other countries share that interest and may be expected to also express support in some form or other for Kuchma’s reelection ahead of the October balloting.

Schroeder also pledged German support in European Union councils for Ukraine’s aspiration to expand cooperation with the EU. Kuchma and Schroeder agreed on a two-stage strategy which will aim, first, at signing a free trade agreement between Ukraine and the EU, to be followed by an association agreement. Starting negotiations toward these two agreements has been a long-standing goal of Ukrainian policy; but the EU has thus far been unresponsive, prompting Kyiv to complain that Europe lacks a policy toward Ukraine (see the Monitor, June 29, and The Fortnight in Review, July 2). Whether Schroeder’s pledge to Kuchma had been coordinated in advance with Brussels or would meet with approval there is far from certain in view of the current situation at EU headquarters.

With regard to Ukrainian-German economic relations, the visits’ results were predictably meager. Kuchma openly admitted to Ukraine’s failure to create an attractive climate for German and other Western investments. He promised remedial action, but such promises have come to naught in the past, as the relevant legislation is mainly up to the Verkhovna Rada. Businessmen accompanying Schroeder signed several relatively minor agreements with Ukrainian counterpart firms. Although Germany is Ukraine’s number one Western economic partner, German direct investments in the country currently total only US$232 million. The bilateral trade turnover for 1998 has been estimated as US$2 billion. Those figures do not seem likely to increase appreciably if at all this year.

Schroeder declared in Kyiv that his Social Democrat-Green coalition government has decided to postpone until the fall a decision over possible financing of the closure of the Chornobyl nuclear power plant. That decision, however, was made last month and is essentially negative. Forced on Schroeder by the anti-nuclear Greens, it withholds German financial contributions to the completion of two nuclear power blocs in Ukraine–at Rivne and Khmelnitskaya, respectively–which are supposed to compensate for Chornobyl’s closure. The Greens’ radical leader Juergen Trittin accompanied Schroeder to Kyiv so as to ensure undeviating adherence by the Chancellor to that decision, which contravenes the 1995 agreement signed by the Group of Seven and the EU with Ukraine. Germany’s defection thwarted consideration of Chornobyl aid to Ukraine at the Group of Seven summit last month in Cologne. The withholding of the promised aid erases the last hope that Ukraine could afford closing down Chornobyl in the year 2000 (Die Welt, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, July 10-11; UNIAN, DINAU, Eastern Economist Daily (Kyiv), July 9-10, 12).