Ukraine Seeks Merkel Plan on German Leader’s Trip to Kiev

Ukraine urged Chancellor Angela Merkel to offer a plan to ease the country’s way to Europe when she visits Kiev, underscoring the expectations on Germany to provide leadership out of the conflict with Russia.

“Many speak of a type of Marshall Plan -- why not a kind of Merkel Plan,” Ukrainian Foreign Minister Pavlo Klimkin said in a German television interview today on the eve of Merkel’s visit. “Germany is leading the stabilization efforts -- in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions, but also for the continued reforms in Ukraine so that Ukraine can proceed on a European path.”

Merkel plans to meet President Petro Poroshenko and Prime Minister Arseniy Yatsenyuk tomorrow on her first trip to the Ukrainian capital since the conflict began. As diplomacy to halt fighting between government forces and pro-Russian separatists gains urgency, Poroshenko says he’ll meet Russian President Vladimir Putin next week to seek a peace agreement.

Merkel’s presence reflects her decision to get more engaged in Europe’s biggest standoff since the Cold War, a stance matched by her readiness to break with post-World War II German policy and help arm Kurdish forces in northern Iraq. Merkel, who grew up under Communism in East Germany, has voiced exasperation with Putin, who the U.S. and the European Union say is aiding the separatists. Russia denies involvement.

Tension escalated today as Russian humanitarian-aid trucks entered Ukraine without the government’s consent at a border crossing in a rebel-held area, leading Ukraine to accuse Russia of staging an invasion.

Crisis Leader

While Merkel’s trip is a “sign of support at a difficult time,” her message to Ukrainian leaders is that both sides should work for a cease-fire, Steffen Seibert, her chief spokesman, told reporters in Berlin today.

The visit to Kiev carries symbolism, coming a day before Ukraine marks its 1991 declaration of independence from the Soviet Union. That fits with Merkel’s gradual recognition of the need to lead in the crisis, an approach that mirrors her ascent to global importance during the debt crisis.

“The euro crisis made it very clear that Germany’s economic weight within Europe means it almost by default has to assume a leadership position,” Famke Krumbmueller, a London-based European affairs analyst at political risk consultancy Eurasia Group, said in an e-mailed response to a query. “Germany did it and found it could actually successfully promote its interests and it was politically very successful for Merkel.”

Merkel’s Method

In another shift of German foreign policy, Merkel’s government this week scrapped the postwar taboo on arms shipments, clearing the way for Germany to supply Iraq with weapons to fight Islamic State militants.

In Ukraine, the EU has promised as much as 11 billion euros ($14.6 billion) in loans, grants and development aid tied to economic reforms. Poroshenko also signed an association agreement with the EU that includes a trade pact.

The conflict -- a popular uprising in Ukraine that toppled a Russian-backed leader, Russia’s annexation of Crimea, a pro-Russian uprising in Ukraine’s east and U.S. and EU sanctions -- has escalated over six months, leaving more than 2,000 people dead. Russian humanitarian aid trucks began crossing the Ukrainian border today to help thousands of residents left without water and electricity by the fighting.

Expectations were high on Merkel two years ago when she visited Athens in October 2012 for the first time since the debt crisis emerged in Greece three years earlier. She didn’t offer any fresh solution on that occasion, urging Greeks to stay the course.

Truce Dispute

Merkel’s message may disappoint Ukrainian leaders. EU leaders haven’t considered inviting Ukraine into the 28-member bloc, and Germany wants both sides to lay down their arms.

Klimkin suggested Ukrainian forces won’t stop pressing to regain rebel-held territory unless the separatists, whom he called terrorists, agree to a cease-fire. He cited Poroshenko’s previous unilateral cease-fire, saying another truce would have to be mutual and require secure borders and the presence of observers.

“It depends on the terrorists,” he said in the ZDF television interview.

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