Anka Feldhusen first came to the German Embassy in Ukraine in the mid-1990s. During the Euromaidan, she was a deputy ambassador. And in 2019, for the third time, she returned to Kyiv as Germany's Ambassador.
Hromadske’s Olga Tokariuk spoke with Feldgusen about the outcomes of the last Normandy summit and the prospects for the next one to take place in Berlin, about the Nord Stream 2 and relations with Russia, support for Ukraine in Europe and assistance in reforms, as well as what German investors expect from the Ukrainian authorities.
I would like to start with the last Normandy summit in Paris. What do you think are the results? It has been almost two months now and it seems that things that have been agreed upon have not been achieved. From your point of view, what does it look like?
The very fact that this meeting took place actually was progress because our leaders had not met for three years. And I think that for President Zelenskyy the meeting in Paris was a great success. As a result of the summit, the prisoner exchange was agreed upon, and it happened before the end of the year. It was good.
The ceasefire, unfortunately, has not yet taken place. There are different assessments of the summit now, but it seems to me that the final declaration of the summit is supposed to be a benchmark for all parties now, and they are working in that direction. Especially my colleagues in Germany, they are preparing the next meeting to be held in April. They are really working hard to make the next meeting a success.
We see the shellings going on, and you mentioned that too. Russia does not fulfill the obligations they have signed up for in Paris. At the same time, [Ukraine’s] European partners, in particular France and Germany, are criticized for not condemning these actions by Russia. How could you answer that?
I think in our capitals they talk less about it and try to find solutions more constructively. You mentioned the areas of troop disengagement – it was also the result of the Paris summit. And now we are actively working to find areas that could be agreed between the parties.
It is unfortunate that there are shellings, but it is necessary to find a solution so that it does not become a frozen conflict that no one talks about.
In a situation where shellings continue and people die, does it even make sense to hold a new meeting? Are there any prerequisites for it?
So far, it seems to me that there are no such prerequisites because in Berlin we should talk about the political component of the Minsk agreements. But this may change. We work every day to make results and progress. It is impossible to predict what happens in April.
Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, left, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron and Russian President Vladimir Putin, right, attend a joint news conference at the Elysee Palace in Paris, Monday Dec. 9, 2019 EPA-EFE/LUDOVIC MARIN/POOL
In the U.S., the impeachment of Donald Trump took place, to which Ukraine was involved to some extent. And there are fears that the topic of Ukraine in the U.S. is becoming somewhat toxic, that the bipartisan support of Ukraine in the U.S. may have been shaken. That is why there is great hope in Ukraine for the support of European partners. At the same time, we see that Brexit has taken place – Ukraine has lost such a powerful ally within the EU as Britain. France has recently been talking about rapprochement with Russia. So the stance of Germany, which is a heavyweight in the EU and which Ukraine very much hopes for, is very important. Can Germany reassure Ukrainians in this situation? What’s Germany’s message?
Germany stands side by side with Ukraine on its way to Europe, to be a successful European country. In our view, Ukraine must be such and already is to some extent. Our Chancellor is watching what is happening here, she is the most reliable partner of Ukraine, the Ukrainian government and the Ukrainian president. She plays an important role not only in the Minsk process but also in cooperation with Ukraine.
The EU is Ukraine's largest partner for cooperation, and it is important for Germany to remain a reliable partner. We are fighting in Brussels for sanctions to be extended. I think Ukraine can really be very calm about Germany being by your side.
There seems to be a conflict between France and Germany now regarding the vision of the EU’s future and relations with Russia. What is Germany's vision and how can this conflict affect Ukraine?
Russia is a large geographical neighbor and cannot simply be ignored. We very much agree with President Macron about that. But we have certain rules, for example, that there won’t be any business as usual with Russia because of the annexation of Crimea and aggression in the Donbas. We try to continue to have contacts at all levels, but there will be no state visits. We also have a lot of public discussions in Russia. We want the new generation in Russia to know what Europe is, what the benefits are, and how to modernize Russia's economy. It seems to me that this is a very big question for Russia as to how the country can continue to live in the current conditions. And we want to have contacts with people who will address these issues in the future.
The U.S. plans to impose new sanctions against companies involved in the construction of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, in particular, the German ones. Germany believes that this project is a necessary one and defends it, notwithstanding the concerns of both Ukrainian and other experts that it is a solely political project. But can Berlin's position change now, given that transatlantic unity is in question, and after these new U.S. sanctions? Can they affect Germany's stance?
We truly believe that Nord Stream 2 is part of Europe's energy security. But our Chancellor said that there was also a political component. We know that our neighbors are outraged – both Poles and Ukrainians. But it seems to me that gas needs in Germany, especially now that we are giving up coal and nuclear energy, will be high, and that gas will flow through both Nord Stream 2 and through Ukraine for a long time.
Russia is known to use gas as a “weapon” against its neighbors, in particular, against Ukraine. So is Germany's support for the Nord Stream 2 at odds with political support for Ukraine?
We believe that we can support gas transit both through Ukraine and through Nord Stream 2. And it seems to me that the agreement between Gazprom and Naftogaz has shown that Gazprom has commercial interests. For me, this compromise is also very acceptable for Ukraine.
You have been in Ukraine for a very long time, since the 90s, and you have seen how the country has changed. What are some of the biggest successes in Ukraine you have observed? And what hasn’t happened successfully?
When I first arrived in the 1990s, it was a completely different country. When I returned in 2010, it was already clear that Ukraine was approaching Europe. And after the Maidan, no doubt decided to go the European way. Young Ukrainians now feel part of Europe, and I really like that.
I think that there was not enough political will to modernize the economy and the social sphere. The economy remains heavily influenced by oligarchic interests and very little foreign investment. Transforming Ukraine's economy is a big project for this government, and we want to support it in this. And I would very much like to see new projects by German investors this year. You now have an absolute majority in the parliament, which is what all Western European politicians dream of. But it is not easy. Debates on land reform are taking place in the parliament. And it is noticeable that there are very different interests and it is difficult to connect them, even when there is an absolute majority.
Our President is actively encouraging new investors to come to invest in Ukraine. Do you see German investors responding to this call? What areas are most interesting to them? If land reform is implemented, the land market will be opened. How attractive would this be for German farmers?
Interest is indeed there, but everyone is waiting for what happens next. For instance, with judicial reform. It is very important for investors to be able to defend their interests in the courts. This is the first. Second, the general macroeconomic indicators. At the end of last year, we first had such an investment project when a very large pharmaceutical company from Germany bought a factory in Bila Tserkva. This is a good example because there will be new jobs. And it's not a big city. I hope there will be more such projects this year.
German Ambassador to Ukraine Anka Feldhusen during an interview with Hromadske, Kyiv, February 7, 2020. Photo: Hromadske
What about the government's idea about an “investment nanny”?
Today they talk about a “nanny”, earlier [Kyiv’s mayor Vitaliy] Klychko talked about a “bodyguard”. Our investors need neither nannies nor bodyguards - they need independent courts. There are already 2,000 German firms in Ukraine, and they are successfully operating. Investors can get good signals that something is going on here and you need to come here. Your president often says that one should come now when there are niches for investment – and that's right.
[Ukrainian state railway company] Ukrzaliznytsia recently announced its cooperation with Deutsche Bahn. Now, this is counseling, but later there may be deeper cooperation. What opportunities does this open, what can Germany teach and, in general, what is its interest?
Deutsche Bahn was a very large loss-making enterprise, and Germany privatized part of the company. We have experience in how to privatize such a large enterprise and make it profitable. German Deutsche Bahn now advises other similar companies in other countries. The Ukrainian railway is just one example, they do it in Kazakhstan, for example. How to successfully isolate the parts of Ukrzaliznytsia that can be privatized, how to develop and profit, so that the state invests less? Deutsche Bahn is very interested in sharing their experience.
Germany is actively assisting Ukraine in implementing reforms. In what areas do you think success is the most visible? Decentralization? Humanitarian policy? And maybe the green initiatives that are becoming more important, and which are being talked about more and more?
You mentioned decentralization which is our most important project. It has been going on for almost 5 years and started when I was still working as a Deputy Ambassador. We are nearing completion of the project – the unification of territorial communities. Сhanges to the Constitution are being discussed now, and we are actively cooperating with Ukrainian MPs, with members of the government and the presidential administration, so that these changes really reinforce such fundamental decentralization. I have seen in these united communities that people know that they can directly influence and set their own priorities. These are confident citizens with strong communities – and as a result, a safe country. We want to continue supporting this project.
Despite support in many areas, Germany has refused to provide military assistance to Ukraine. This was stated by Foreign Minister Vadym Prystaiko in December last year. Why did this happen and under what conditions could it change?
Cooperation between our [German and Ukrainian] armed forces is quite successful. We have been treating the Ukrainian soldiers for several years. And it started during the Maidan because we treated the first victims in our military hospitals. And now we help hospitals of the Armed Forces of Ukraine with medical equipment. For me, this is the most successful defense cooperation. In 2014, we saw soldiers dying because they could not be transported quickly to hospitals or medical centers. I think that our cooperation in the field of medicine is very successful, and this is part of the assistance to Ukraine from partner countries.
After World War II, the idea of pacifism is indeed there in Germany, and we very rarely provide weapons.
German Ambassador to Ukraine Anka Feldhusen during an interview with Hromadske, Kyiv, February 7, 2020. Photo: Hromadske
Germany will open its labor market to Ukrainians on March 1. Why does Germany need it? And how to respond to the fears in Ukraine that the brain drain will only increase after that?
We want to attract not only academics but also professionals for a very simple reason – we do not have enough of them. It seems to me that there is a risk in Ukraine that more and more people are moving not only to Germany. Many Ukrainians are already in Poland.
And now the Poles are afraid that those Ukrainians will go to Germany.
Just so! I think there is even more concern in Poland that they will lose these people. I think that our task will be to ensure that Ukrainians gain new knowledge in Germany and return to Ukraine to become active participants in the Ukrainian economy. Our goal is not to pick up all the specialists from Ukraine, but to give them the knowledge that will be useful here as well.
I know that you were one of the biggest supporters of opening a House of Europe in Ukraine. It's been several months since it started working. Can you please evaluate the success of the project? And why is it needed, actually?
Ukraine is a very large country. Kyiv does not reflect all of Ukraine. House of Europe is an online platform for initiatives that people in Ukrainian regions have. This is a virtual platform for new, creative ideas. Through the House of Europe, we want to help people connect with those who share their ideas. I think this is what Ukraine needs. There is a very rich creative sphere in Kyiv, but it is necessary to give people in the regions the opportunity to get involved.
In one of your previous interviews, you said that you became passionate about Argentine tango during the Maidan. Do you continue to practice it? And how do you find time in your busy ambassador schedule?
You know, I'm very happy to be back in a dance studio where I used to dance not only Argentine tango but other dances as well. This is my only opportunity to take a break from work, which is really stressful. Dancing gives me the energy to do my work further. It seems to me that it is a good sport, music, and fun people. It helps me a lot.
/ Interview by Olga Tokariuk, translated by Vladyslav Kudryk