Merkel, Putin, and peace. Why the sudden change of plans?

French President Hollande welcomes Germany's Chancellor Merkel as she arrives at the Elysee Palace before the solidarity marchin the streets of Paris



Article by: Mychailo Wynnyckyj

Thoughts from Kyiv – 7 February 2015. Social networks and the global media are buzzing: what’s the plan? Are the Europeans about to decide Ukraine’s fate over the heads of the Ukrainians? And most importantly, why now?

Yesterday and today Ukrainian public opinion is split between two emotions: distrust and hope. German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Francois Hollande spent 5 hours last night in discussions with Putin in Moscow. The previous day they spent over 3 hours with President Poroshenko in Kyiv. Apparently the Germans and the French have a peace plan that they are trying to sell to both the Ukrainians and the Russians. Social networks and the global media are buzzing: what’s the plan? Are the Europeans about to decide Ukraine’s fate over the heads of the Ukrainians? And most importantly, why now?

I’m in the hopeful camp, so I want to believe that European leaders are not naïve enough to agree to Putin’s imperialist vision of dividing the world into spheres of influence that neglect the sovereignty of smaller states. Furthermore, I would like to think that Merkel and Hollande are genuinely interested in finding some form of deal that will allow the world to avoid global catastrophe. But many Ukrainians have ample reason to mistrust EU leaders. During the past 11 months (since Russia first invaded Crimea) Germany and France have provided Ukraine with little more than their “grave concern” in the face of outright aggression. Seemingly recognizing the potentially damaging “optics” of her visit to Moscow, before leaving Berlin, Chancellor Merkel made clear that she would not do a deal with Russia that bypasses Ukraine’s leadership. For his part President Hollande said that the two leaders’ peace proposals to Putin would be “based upon the territorial integrity of Ukraine.”

The details of the peace plan are not clear. Apparently, the discussions have returned the parties to the effectively dead Minsk agreements. But having been grossly and repeatedly violated by the pro-Russian side since September, at this point these documents are moot. The suddenness of the Franco-German peace initiative seems to have been prompted by a growing consensus among Washington policy-makers as to the need to shift away from restricting military aid to Ukraine to clothing and night vision goggles, towards agreeing to provide anti-tank missiles and other defensive weaponry. In Europe, leaders are obviously worried that such a decision will result in further escalation on the part of Russia, and possibly a widening of the conflict beyond Ukraine. The main message coming out of European media outlets can be formulated in the following rhetorical question: “Why provide weapons to Ukraine, when Ukraine is fighting a war that it cannot win?”

What does it mean for Ukraine to “win” a war against Russia? If victory means returning Ukraine’s borders to their pre-Maidan lines, personally, as a Kyiv resident and Ukrainian tax payer, I’m against this. And I’m not alone in this opinion. Firstly, the Donbas has been completely destroyed, and it will cost billions to reconstruct its infrastructure. It is unrealistic to expect Russia to pay reparations for its aggression, and the rest of Ukraine simply does not have the resources to rebuild the region. Secondly, the entrepreneurial and professional population of Donbas has now left the war-torn region, and they are unlikely to return any time soon. Those who have stayed behind have been subjected to Russia’s all-encompassing propaganda, and as a result, few would welcome a return to Ukrainian rule as liberation. Although Ukraine should not formally agree to give up its territory, realistically, the ‘de facto’ borders of the country will be smaller when peace finally comes.

Achieving some level of peace is precisely why Ukraine needs to be supplied with defensive weapons. Supplying anti-tank missiles will not enable Ukraine to invade Russia, nor even to regain lost territory in the Donbas. The point is to stop further Russian aggression. To stop Putin, Ukraine needs the means to defend itself. We need to stop the daily funerals of Ukrainian soldiers, and the constant flow of maimed heroes whose lives will now continue without limbs, eyes, and with irreversible psychological damage. The goal is not to push the Russians back to their borders, but to ensure that the new effective border can be drawn along the Minsk Agreement line of contact. Since September, this line has moved significantly westward as a result of continued Russian artillery barrages despite the supposed cease fire.

Today, Chancellor Merkel spoke at the Munich Security Summit, and repeated her opposition to providing Ukraine with western weaponry. However, her counterpart Francois Hollande, having returned from Moscow stated outright, if the shuttle diplomacy that the two have launched does not lead to some measure of peace, the alternative is “total war”.  Merkel will be travelling to Washington on Monday to meet with President Obama – presumably to personally relay the (non)result of her talks with Putin, but also to ask her American colleague to give her peace initiative a chance. The alternative (if one is to believe the French President) is frightening: World War Three.

This is truly a bad situation. If the West provides weapons, Putin will finally have gained the pretext that he needs to escalate the conflict beyond Ukraine (the Russian President has repeatedly made it clear that he considers his adversary to be the US, not Ukraine). If the West does not provide weapons, Putin will continue to kill Ukrainians, gradually destroying the country, and proving to the world that Budapest Memoranda, and other “agreements” are not worth the paper they are written on. This dilemma is not an easy one to solve.

But with all of this, one question bothers me: “why now?” On the surface, US policy regarding the issue of providing weapons to Ukraine seems to have shifted after the January 24 bombing of Mariupol – the southern Donbas port city on the Azov Sea that was hit by Grad rockets obviously and unquestionably originating from Russian-held territories to the east. However, similar terrorist attacks have happened before in the Russia-Ukraine conflict: the downing of MH 17 in July, the massacre of civilians in a bus near Volnovakha in January are just two that come to mind.

Could it be that the Americans and Europeans know something is imminent? Has satellite data shown an increase in Russian war preparations? Has credible intelligence been obtained from inside the Kremlin as to Putin’s immediate plans? Last Thursday’s visit by Merkel and Hollande to Kyiv was abrupt. The visit by US Secretary of State John Kerry was planned, but the European leaders arrived practically unannounced. Their visit to Moscow was equally unplanned. Less than one month ago, Chancellor Merkel cancelled her trip to Kazakhstan for a meeting with Putin, saying that she saw no point in the summit because no deal was possible with the Russian leader. This week her strategy suddenly changed – why? The German leader has stated that she has spoken to Putin over 40 times by telephone during the past year; did the Russian President communicate some sort of diabolical intent to her during one of these calls?

According to some sources, Putin-the-psychopathic-authoritarian is getting nervous (and therefore unpredictable) because his country’s economy is getting squeezed by sanctions and falling oil prices. The InformNapalm website today published a report claiming that Putin openly threatened Merkel and Hollande with a tactical nuclear strike on Ukraine and possibly Poland and the Baltic states – to be delivered by SS-26 “Iskander” missiles deployed in Kaliningrad and Crimea. If these reports are true, the Russian-Ukrainian war in the Donbas has just become much more than a local conflict.




Last week, two Russian Tu-95 “Bear” bombers, apparently carrying nuclear missiles, interrupted civilian air traffic over the English Channel and were intercepted by RAF Typhoon fighters. This time they just flew by…

God help us!

Mychailo Wynnyckyj PhD

Kyiv-Mohyla Academy

Featured image: Pascal Rossignol / Reuters

Edited by: Alya Shandra

Since you’re here – we have a favor to ask. Russia’s hybrid war against Ukraine is ongoing, but major news agencies have gone away. But we’re here to stay, and will keep on providing quality, independent, open-access information on Ukrainian reforms, Russia’s hybrid war, human rights violations, political prisoners, Ukrainian history, and more. We are a non-profit, don’t have any political sponsors, and never will. If you like what you see, please help keep us online with a donation!

Tags: , , ,

  • ct

    Why two intelligent European leaders bother to negotiate with a known sociopath defies explanation. Nothing will be gained from arguing with a murderous imbecil fascist. Putin’s threats to the world, and obvious desire to challenge to the U.S. will bring about further destruction just to satisfy his arrogance and sociopathic end game. He couldn’t care less about humankind anymore than Hitler. Russians themselves need to destroy their own monster before he destroys them….

  • Brent

    Merkl: German company. Rheinmetall, built the $140 million training base for Russia’s military in southwest Russia.
    Hollande: France still wants to sell Mistral class assault warships to Russia

    Should these two be trusted with Ukraine’s future? I don’t think so, but they are the ones trying to negotate with Russia.. Hopefully they finally got the wakeup call they needed with their 5 hour fruitless meeting with Putin. I think Putin is finally showing his cards to Europe. If he made threats with his Iskander missiles, then Europe needs to understand its their future on the line and not just Ukraine’s.

    If Europe doesn’t want war with Russia, it needs to move towards strangling it economically to cut off its funding for its war machine. So what if Russia cuts off its gas supply. They will lose the funds they desperately need. Let Russia’s own citizens realize Putin has brought them to the economic brink and its their future. They protested him 3 years ago, they can protest him again.

  • rgb

    Putin stated he would become a European security threat when sanctions were first put on Russia for his annexation of Crimea, Ukraine and then his incursion in the east of Ukraine. He has had plenty of time to strategically place his nukes to pose a greater threat to Europe and the Baltics. I’m sure there is a nuke for the USA/Canada (he wouldn’t hurt Europe until he put the hurt on USA/Canada first). Putin’s silver tongue threats are the only truth that comes from his mouth.

    Obama, for years has been suggesting to the European nations to increase their military powers. It is a good thing USA has encouraged Europe to take-on the responsibility to deal directly with Russia (other than sanctions), it is the European backyard. Although, I do agree that the US and UK should honor their end of the Budapest Memorandum, even though Russia has proven they have discarded it.

    Remember that EU, NATO (which USA/Canada is part of), and the UN have taken on the responsibility of setting an example for the world. Russia has proven it lacks the values/morals to be a good example.

    I have empathy for Ukrainians; what to do? I totally understand the dilemma put on this sovereign country and also torn between what may be the best way forward. The Russian terrorist have stated they want all of the southeast/east of Ukraine, so they will not stop until all is damaged and under their control. (Twisted, the terrorist want to be respected for their wants but refuse to respect others of their wants.) Please, God forbid this to happen!

    Ukraine is in my prayers daily and may God lead this country in the direction best for it. Glory to Ukraine!

  • Mephisto

    Who the hell gave Merkel the right to talk for the whole of Europe or EU? She presents herself as some kind of self-appointed leader. Ask in Poland or the Baltic State what they want to do about Putin.
    My peace plan for Putin is following: arm Ukraine, if Putin invades with Russian army, deploy NATO units into Ukraine.
    At the same time: kick Russia out of SWIFT and out of the whole international community.

    • sandy miller

      thank you Mephisto…it’s time someone said something sensible. It’s obvious Putin will not stop until he is stopped. Why aren’t you the President of some country.

  • sandy miller

    someone needs to bomb the kremlin with Putin and his regime in it…It’s the only way to stop these manics. Just think if the world had stopped Hitler and than went on and stopped Stalin all of Europe would have been saved from this horrible life those countries have had to endure from these incompetent communists.

  • Dave Ralph

    good analysis. Throw the Donbass out and bring serious firepower to defend the revised borders.

  • Being

    Merkel and Holland are going to cheat Ukraine again, they can not do anything else.
    Look at them and their past.