German Ambassador Anka Feldhusen: Crimean Platform good for getting more countries to support Ukraine & sanctions

The Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Federal Republic of Germany to Ukraine Ms. Anka Feldhusen. Photo by investigator.org.ua 

Crimea, International

Article by: Interview by Valentyna Samar and Julia Kazdobina

With the approach of the inaugural summit of the Crimea Platform, an initiative by the Ukrainian government called to forward the de-occupation of the Ukrainian peninsula seized by Russia in 2014, seven years of EU sanctions against Russia in response to the occupation come under scrutiny. This interview of the Ukrainian media investigator.org.ua with German Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Ukraine Ms. Anka Feldhusen, is part of this effort. It was held by Valentyna Samar, editor-in-chief of the Center for Journalist Investigations, and Julia Kazdobina, Head of the Ukrainian Foundation for Security Studies.

Read on to find out about whether German companies adhere to the sanctions, what Germany is doing about sanctions violations, the rationale behind Germany’s recent attempts for an EU-Russia rapprochement, how soon Germany might take part in SeaBreeze military exercises in the Black Sea, how Germany sees its role in the Crimea Platform, and whether the West should have responded differently during the occupation of Crimea.

Valentyna Samar: Ms. Ambassador, thank you very much for agreeing to answer the questions we would like to ask you on the eve of the Crimea Platform summit. And the first question has to do with the policy of non-recognition of the attempted annexation of Crimea and the city of Sevastopol by the Russian Federation, adhered to by the EU countries, the United States, G7 and others. What is the German government’s interpretation of the non-recognition policy? How is it implemented in your national legislation?

Anka Feldhusen: Thank you for coming Ms. Valentyna, it’s been a long time since we met (we had met in Crimea before its occupation by the Russian Federation – ed.) I am glad to welcome you here.

Germany is steadfastly on Ukraine’s side in not recognizing Crimea’s annexation. We see this as a grave violation of international law. And we thoroughly implement all decisions, first of all, those of the European Union, related to Crimean sanctions. However, there are other measures as well. I was here when Crimea was annexed. And we did not know what to do should people living in Crimea want to go to the EU, to the Schengen area. It was OK for those who held Ukrainian passports. But what about those who had obtained Russian passports? We did not want them to be able to travel with these passports. And we worked hard on figuring out what passports were issued to the residents of Crimea, and we simply did not issue visas to people holding those passports.

Non-recognition policy involves first of all economic sanctions. But we have also cut cooperation with universities, for example. Also, as you most likely know Simferopol is a sister city to the city of Heidelberg, and all of these relations have been terminated as well due to the annexation.

Julia Kazdobina: If we talk about sanctions as a component of non-recognition policy, they are imposed by the government, however, it’s mostly business that has to implement them. Of course, such government policy is not beneficial for business. Has the German business adapted to the sanctions related to the Russian aggression against Ukraine?

Anka Feldhusen: Yes, those are the EU sanctions and we have thoroughly implemented them into our legislation. When German companies make contracts with Russian companies, they have to specify the institution or the person who is the final beneficiary of their goods or services. That is, they must put it down in writing. And, if we later learn that this was not implemented, and we believe that they really violated German legislation, then we analyze this and send information to our law enforcement agencies for them to investigate.

Julia Kazdobina: How significant were the losses the German business suffered from the Crimea sanctions’ imposition?

Anka Feldhusen: I cannot tell you this. You know, our economy is first and foremost based on small and medium businesses; family businesses make up the biggest share of the German economy. Big companies like Siemens and the like are after all just a small part of our GDP.

Our businesses have always been export-oriented. This is a peculiarity and the quality of the German economy. This, however, means that they are very flexible when it comes to events not only here in Ukraine or Russia but also all over the globe. That is, they adapt very quickly and look for new markets. Generally, they are always on the lookout for new markets. So, I don’t think they have lost that much…they had losses but they simply have reoriented themselves and I believe that this is a positive distinction of our business – it is truly flexible

Valentyna Samar: you have just mentioned Siemens. The story with the supply of the Siemens gas turbines for the thermal power plants in Crimea and Sevastopol was clear to everybody but everybody continued to play the game Putin played in 2014. He said, “We are not there” meaning that there were no Russian troops in Crimea…

Anka Feldhusen: Yes, I remember very well.

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Valentyna Samar: and then in 2017 Simens said, “we are not there,” although everything was crystal clear. What has the German government learned from this story that is highly unpleasant for Ukraine? Did you succeed in explaining to your business that such things are no longer possible since they help the occupier?

Anka Feldhusen: We are constantly in a dialogue with these companies because we have to explain to them what can and what cannot be done. It’s true that when we are confident that there has been a violation, we forward it to the law enforcement agencies and they investigate it further. And if there is a violation it will end up in court.

I think there have been very few cases like this before now. You know about Siemens, there were maybe two or three other cases over the seven years. And I think our companies know very well and recognize what can be done and what is forbidden.

Julia Kazdobina, Valentyna Samar and Anka Feldhusen Photo by investigator.org.ua

Valentyna Samar: Ms. Ambassador, could you give any examples of an investigation into a sanctions violation? I recall the story when Norwegian ilmenite was supplied to Crimea for oligarch Dmitriy Firtash’s titanium plant in Crimea. In 2018 there were reports that Germany was investigating suspected EU sanctions violations by two shipping companies — Hansa Heavy Lift from Hamburg and Heinz Corleis KG from Stade that transported 35 thousand tons of ilmenite ore from Norway to Crimea. How did the investigation end?

Anka Feldhusen: I am not aware of this case. However, there is another suspicion connected to the Kerch Strait bridge construction. A German company was possibly involved in its construction. We have sent the information we received to our law enforcement agencies that are looking into it. There have been no results so far.

Companies do not always tell us where they want to supply their goods. And it’s, of course, difficult for us then. But the media space is very open today, there are investigative journalists and social media and they publish information that can be used.

Julia Kazdobina: Cases like this, of course, make sanctions less effective. And so, our next question: what institution in Germany is in charge of monitoring sanctions’ effectiveness, how is this done? What is your general assessment, are the sanctions imposed by the EU effective?

Anka Feldhusen: The case with the construction of the Kerch Strait bridge shows that mechanisms are effective. And, as I have mentioned, over the last 7 years there have only been five or six cases which is very few. I believe we are effective in implementing the EU sanctions.

We have an agency, the so-called “Office for Economic Affairs and Export Controls.” Companies have to apply for export permits, whenever their contracts have in the slightest way to do with Crimea. If it is a straightforward case, the agency decides on its own whether or not to grant the permit. If a case is more complicated then relevant ministries are included in the decision-making process, that is not only the Economy Ministry but also our Foreign Ministry. They regularly consider these cases and decide together whether the export permit should be given.

Julia Kazdobina: This concerns the effectiveness of the sanctions’ regime implementation. What about the effectiveness of the sanctions from the point of view of their impact, that is the result that was intended to achieve by means of imposing sanctions?

Anka Feldhusen: I think the discussion of whether the sanctions are useful and whether they change anything has been going on since the very moment they were imposed. We do not impose sanctions for the sake of sanctions. We want to apply them in a very targeted and personal way to change behavior – in the case of Crimea, the behavior of Russia or Putin. And it’s hard, really hard. However, I think we have learned from past experience that personal and targeted sanctions are more efficient than comprehensive sanctions. We try to use different kinds of sanctions, both personal against specific individuals and sectoral.

And if you have read the conclusions of the last European Council meeting, they even contain a call to the heads of states and governments and to the European Commission to think about more effective sectoral sanctions. This concerns Belarus, but Russia as well.

Valentyna Samar: Does your embassy monitor travel to Crimea by the German citizens and the work of German companies in Crimea?

Anka Feldhusen: Our economic department monitors everything: the state of Ukraine’s economy, as well as the individual cases covered by the Ukrainian media or social media. We send reports back to Berlin because we are also not interested in having problems with this.

Valentyna Samar: We could collect information on the cases of suspected violations of non-recognition policy and EU sanctions on Crimea we have investigated and give to you. Maybe, we could establish this kind of new cooperation.

Anka Feldhusen: Yes, good. We will send whatever we learn to Germany and they will decide whether this has to be investigated.

Valentyna Samar: Thank you. Ms. Ambassador, you definitely know that Russia is conducting a policy targeted specifically at weakening the non-recognition policy, annulling the sanctions, although at the same time they claim they do not feel them…

Anka Feldhusen: I know…

Valentyna Samar: They really want the sanctions to be terminated and the Crimean issue taken off the international agenda. And propagandist projects lavishly funded from the federal budget and with the Russian MFA money are created for the purpose. One of them is the International Association Friends of Crimea, which brings together several dozens of organizations from around the world. They support the Kremlin’s policy and legitimize Crimea’s Russian status. Among the most active organizations is the German organization – “Freunde der Krim.” It’s officially registered in Germany, Its head Andreas Maurer often visits Crimea and the occupied part of the Donbas. How does Germany view these actions of the German politicians and are you aware of these facts?

Anka Feldhusen: I have really learned about this organization for the first time from your questions. I have worked in Ukraine for a really long time not only as Ambassador, but I have also worked here as the Deputy Chief of the Mission, I have lived in Germany for four years and worked for the Federal President and I have never heard of them. This organization definitely exists and it is definitely active, but the circle of its influence is very limited. And those businessmen who follow them to Crimea via Russia, if they are serious businessmen, they know they won’t be able to enter Ukraine afterward because they will be banned from entering. It’s their individual choice.

We as the Foreign Ministry, and you can see this on our websites, intensively advise our citizens against going to Crimea. If something happens to them, for example, a road accident, nobody will be able to help them: neither our Moscow embassy nor we. The embassy in Moscow cannot help them because we do not recognize the annexation of Crimea, and we won’t because we cannot travel to Crimea and help them. We also do not work with the so-called “government agencies” in occupied Crimea. That is these people have no consular protection, and I would say 98% of people read this and think, “OK, I am not going because if something happens, nobody will help me.” The people who ignore this have to understand this. Unfortunately, we can’t do anything if they clearly violate sanctions.

The Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the Federal Republic of Germany to Ukraine Ms. Anka Feldhusen Photo by investigator.org.ua

Valentyna Samar: I will parse this question into several to analyze whether there is a violation of sanctions and non-recognition policy. We are talking about politicians representing German parties, some of them are municipal council members, some are MEPs, you know about them. So, is this a violation of the German law when these politicians travel to Crimea with financial support from Russian foundations and get free services there?

Anka Feldhusen: True, if it’s a government employee or somebody from the municipal bodies, they definitely cannot travel with financial support from others. Or, if they do, it definitely has to be declared. And if this is the case and we know about it then it gets investigated. But these people know about this and plan accordingly. Therefore, I am not aware of a single case when they really violated anything for this to be investigated in Germany. And, of course, we live in a democracy and we have political parties that not everybody likes but we are living with this.

Valentyna Samar: I understand, but we are not talking about parties, we are talking about specific actions and very specific Russian money received by politicians and organizations in the EU. Another element of this case, German citizens open their business in Crimea, having received some preferences from the Russian government. For example, the tourist project “German village” or the energy company “New Energy Plus.” But the EU sanctions directly ban investment in Crimea, start businesses there, and the energy sector is subject to sectoral sanctions. So, is this a violation or not?

Anka Feldhusen: Frankly speaking, I am not a lawyer. If this is stipulated in the European sanctions, then you are probably right. However, you also know that some people permanently reside there. And if they do not go back to the EU, we cannot investigate their actions.

Valentyna Samar: We are talking about German citizens who illegally visit Crimea.

Anka Feldhusen: No, I understand. If they violate sanctions and come back to us, they have to be investigated.

Julia Kazdobina: Ms. Ambassador, coming back to the issue of sanctions’ effectiveness. In the seven years of the occupation, we have seen how sanctions can be bypassed, or some new issues emerge which were not present at the time of the occupation. Is Germany interested in making the sanctions regime more efficient?

Anka Feldhusen: As I have mentioned, conclusions of the European Council published a week ago talk about this. There are at least two paragraphs on how to make sanctions more effective. And not only more effective but also more prompt, so that we will not search for compromise for three months again should something happen but may react more rapidly. The European Council issued a direct call to think about the ways to apply sanctions effectively and quickly. I am glad that the European Council has made this clear determination.

Valentyna Samar: we currently see the differences in sanctions applied by the US and the EU, and Germany respectively. I am not going to mention the significant difference in the number of designated individuals and entities. My question relates to possible fluctuations of the EU and Germany’s sanctions policy towards Russia due to the tensions and challenges caused by the construction of the Nordstream-2 pipeline. Is this situation going to have an impact on the Crimea sanctions?

Anka Feldhusen: As for me, no, no. Because these are two different things. And you know that this is a big controversy that we have with Ukraine. We are working on this. Talks are ongoing. Germany helped Ukraine a lot in signing the contract with Gazprom in 2019 to continue the gas transit to Europe through Ukraine. And we are going to work now to make sure the process continues for another 5 years as the contract specifies. Talks with Americans and Ukrainians are ongoing. Minister Kuleba visited Berlin; he wrote about it himself. I am in active discussions on this issue with the Ukrainian partners, I know how important and painful this is for Ukraine.

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In 15 years, however, the gas transit most likely won’t play a role any longer. 15 years is actually rather soon and it’s important for Ukraine to be in such a shape to remain an effective partner to the European Union, to Germany the way it was when all gas was going through Ukraine. One has to work towards modern technology. For us, this is hydrogen and Ukraine has potential in this sphere. And we have already identified Ukraine as a priority partner in the sphere of hydrogen and I am hoping that together we will be able to make use of these 10-15 years to make Ukraine an exporter. Not only a transit country but for Ukraine to be able to produce this “green hydrogen,| to have reliable long-term revenues.

Valentyna Samar: You say that the current situation won’t have an impact on the Crimea sanctions. However, the first stage of sanctions in March 2014 was the termination of all negotiation processes between the EU and Russia, refusal to hold summits with Putin in response to Russian aggression in Crimea. Chancellor Angela Merkel’s proposition to organize the EU-Russia summit with Putin is in fact a call to annul the sanction imposed in 2014.

Anka Feldhusen: I understand that this limitation has been in effect for seven years and if we change this now, Ukrainians will be disappointed and say that this is a loosening of the sanctions regime.

However, if you look carefully at what Ms. Merkel and Mr. Macron proposed to the European Council, it clearly specified that there should be cooperation only in those areas when there is a direct interest of the European Union. That is, for example, climate change, environment, and other things of that nature. We in no way wanted to go beyond the “5 Mogherini principles” (five guiding principles of the European Union’s policy towards Russia initiated by the EU High Representative on Foreign and Security Policy Federica Mogherini in 2016 – ed.).

I think this initiative now is also a direct result of the absence of progress in the Normandy format and in the Trilateral contact group. There is stagnation and it has to be talked about. And I think that Ms. Merkel and Mr. Macron wanted to find a new way, a possibility for the European Commission to talk to Russia directly. Because Mr. Macron and Ms. Merkel, as well as other heads of states and governments, have in the past talked to Putin directly all the time. This is why in their opinion it would be good for the European Commission to be able to talk to Putin directly as well.

I think two or three other countries were on the side of Germany and France. The rest said, “No, thank you.” And this is the way the European Union works. It’s foreign policy, there has to be a consensus.

Valentyna Samar: What kind of threats do you feel currently coming from the aggressive militarization of Crimea? How efficient in your opinion is the western policy of deterrence towards Russia’s continuing this militarization?

Anka Feldhusen: Our partners and we are following this very closely. And, of course, this is very concerning. And we, I believe, have clearly indicated to Russia that this is not the way it should be. They have withdrawn part of the equipment from Crimea, but not everything and we know about this (after holding a large-scale military exercise – ed.).

Our governments make conclusions based on this. I think the participation of international partners in the SeaBreeze exercise shows that we are aware of the situation in the Black Sea where escalation is possible because everything is very close. Crimea is there, where there is significant militarization on the way. Turkey is close by, Russia itself is not far away, and the EU countries – Bulgaria, Romania. And Ukraine. That is, this is a very small geographic area. One has to be really careful about what is happening there.

Valentyna Samar: And how did you like the passage of the British HMS Defender through the Ukrainian territorial waters near Sevastopol? Are we going to see German ships there any time soon?

Anka Feldhusen: I really hope so… This case with Defender was a really good case of Russian propaganda. And I am not a defense minister, but I do hope we will soon be able to take part in exercises like this.

You know, we work very closely with Ukraine in other defense-related spheres and we helped a lot in turning the Ukrainian armed forces’ medical service into a service more like ours. And this worked very well. And I am very proud that we were able to find such niches where we can really create added value from our cooperation.

Our cooperation with the medical forces of the Armed Forces of Ukraine is very successful. For example, as a part of the so-called capacity building initiative of the Federal Government last year we supplied military hospitals with new equipment worth over 3 million euros to improve medical care in the Armed forces. As soon as an opportunity presents itself over the coronavirus epidemic, doctors and junior medical personnel of the respective hospitals are supposed to have an opportunity to practice in Bundeswehr hospitals to acquire experience with the optimal use of the equipment.

Besides, we actively provide medical help in Germany to soldiers heavily wounded in the war in the Donbas. Since 2014 we have carried out 10 missions transporting the injured to Germany as a part of our MedEvac mission – for a total of 139 patients.

Valentyna Samar: But we are still waiting for German ships?

Anka Feldhusen: Yes, we are waiting. We’ll talk about this again the next year at the time of Seabreeze.

Julia Kazdobina: Ms. Ambassador, you definitely know that the Crimea Platform summit is planned for the month of August. Germany supports this initiative of the Ukrainian government; how does Germany see its role in the Crimea Platform? And a mean not only its governmental level but also the parliamentary and the expert ones. How does Germany see its role?

Anka Feldhusen: I believe we are going to take part in all three dimensions. I am also hoping that Ms. Merkel will be involved. This is the governmental level. As for the parliamentary level, German parliamentarians are clearly going to participate because we have a lot of parliamentarians who are very interested in Ukraine. Ukraine asked us to lead on the policy of non-recognition of Crimea’s annexation and we are currently discussing this.

We also have very active think tanks in Germany; I think they will also participate in the expert circles. We have programs aimed at cooperation between NGOs and think tanks. I believe that this is going to be a rather intensive cooperation. And I do hope that this platform will help keep Crimea in the center of attention because there are always other issues and other challenges, but Crimea should not be forgotten by the international community.

Valentyna Samar: do you see any possible practical results from the existence of the Crimea Platform as a permanent negotiations platform?

Anka Feldhusen: As for me, the Crimea Platform can be a good idea for involving as many countries as possible in the issue because today it’s basically mostly friends of Ukraine who work on it. And this is not a small number of countries, but limited nevertheless. It’s the EU, the United States, Great Britain, Canada, and occasionally several other countries. When we talked to Ukrainian diplomats, we told them to try to make sure that other countries on other continents also know more about Crimea. So that more countries apply the existing sanctions. I think this could be one of the strengths of the Platform.

Valentyna Samar: What do you remember when you talk about the year 2014, the start of Crimea’s occupation by Russia? What did you feel? What did you do? How did you personally react?

Anka Feldhusen: I was recently at the Verkhovna Rada – Speaker Dmytro Razumkov invited us over for dinner to mark the 25th anniversary of the Ukrainian Constitution. And we waited all together in the same room where I stood on 27 February 2014 together with Foreign Minister Andriy Deshchytsya. We were watching TV (and the TV is still there!) and it became clear to us that there were «strange» Russian troops in Crimea and that there was going to be a big problem.

I also remember that the last ambassador to travel to Crimea was Argita Daudze who could speak excellent Russian because she had learned it at school. She came back and told us how she had asked the soldiers where they were from. “I am from Perm,” he would say. They said directly “I am from Russia,” so we very quickly… We have always known that those were the Russian troops and we have always said so…

Valentyna Samar: So why did the western leaders pretend for so long that they believed Putin?

Anka Feldhusen: I think they never believed. He officially only recognized after a year that this was his army and not ours. I think that the annexation was a surprise for everybody. Both for Ukraine and for us. We simply did not consider this at that time.

Valentyna Samar: What do you respond when the West including Ms. Merkel gets reproached for holding back Ukraine’s military resistance in Crimea? And it was not only her. All western leaders advised Ukraine not to succumb to provocations. Does the German government feel responsible for 2014, when the aggressor could be stopped in the first weeks?

Anka Feldhusen: I am not so sure it would have been so easy. Because Ukraine was in a very weak position after Maidan. There were almost no loyal siloviki in Crimea if one uses the Russian term. We always advise de-escalation. However, as I said, this was unexpected. But we have come to understand this and possibly in the future, we will react differently. However, it was the same in the Donbas, I remember that as well. It was during the presidential campaign. I think that with the benefit of the hindsight, we may have reacted differently. I am not sure about Crimea, but in the Donbas it’s possible.

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Valentyna Samar: So, today you would have reacted differently?

Anka Feldhusen: We always act differently if we already know the result.

Valentyna Samar, Julia Kazdobina: Ms. Ambassador, thank you very much for this frank conversation.

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