Germany reassures Ukraine over sanctions on Russia and energy fears

Angela Merkel blames dehydration for trembling incident beside Kiev's leader

German chancellor Angela Merkel  and Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky in Berlin, on Tuesday.  Photograph: Hayoung Jeon/EPA

German chancellor Angela Merkel and Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky in Berlin, on Tuesday. Photograph: Hayoung Jeon/EPA

 

German chancellor Angela Merkel has assured Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy that she wants sanctions on Moscow to continue and his country not to be damaged by a controversial new Russia-Germany gas pipeline.

Mr Zelenskiy swept to power in April after swapping an entertainment career for politics, and he arrived in Berlin from Paris as he sought to shore up heavyweight European support for Ukraine in its five-year conflict with Russia.

Dr Merkel and Mr Zelenskiy said they hoped peace talks would resume soon in the so-called Normandy format, which includes the leaders of Ukraine, Russia, Germany and France. On Monday, French president Emmanuel Macron said Paris could host such a summit, but no possible date has been mentioned publicly.

“We didn’t start this war, and we dream of and strive towards ending it every day,” Mr Zelenskiy said of fighting between government troops and Russian-led militants in Ukraine’s eastern Donbas region, and Moscow’s 2014 annexation of Crimea.

“We don’t want our European partners to suffer because of sanctions, but it is the only bloodless way to restore peace on the continent and it should be followed to the very end,” he added.

Dr Merkel declared that “as long as there is no progress on this front, the sanctions cannot be lifted and the sanctions related to Crimea can only be lifted if Crimea returns to Ukraine.”

Cut gas flows

She also sought to ease fears in Kiev – which are shared by EU states in central Europe and the Baltic – that the Kremlin could cut gas flows through Ukraine once the new Nord Stream 2 pipeline linking Russia and Germany is operational.

“I have repeatedly said to the Russian president that for me the issue of Ukraine being a transit country for gas is essential, so very, very important and President Putin has always stressed to me that he understands that,” Dr Merkel said.

The €9.5 billion pipeline is due for completion by the end of this year, when Ukraine’s current gas transit deal with Moscow expires. If a new contract is not agreed, Kiev could lose billions of euros in precious revenue and gas supplies to the EU’s eastern flank could be jeopardised.

‘Diametrically opposed’

Mr Zelenskiy said Kiev and Berlin held “diametrically opposed” views on Nord Stream 2 and called his country’s role in transporting and storing Russian gas “a guarantee of energy security for both Ukraine and Europe.”

Dr Merkel (64) was seen trembling as she stood with Mr Zelenskiy (41) in the blazing sunshine to listen to a military band play their nations’ anthems, but she brushed off concerns about her health.

“I’ve drunk at least three glasses of water, which I apparently needed, and now I’m doing very well,” she said a little while later.