Power Struggle in the Sea of Azov (II)

BERLIN/KIEV/ANKARA (Own report) - The German government is offering to serve as mediator in the conflict over the Sea of Azov, while demands are being made that ports be closed to Russian ships. Chancellor Angela Merkel announced on the sidelines of the G20 summit last weekend that Russian President Vladimir Putin "had approvingly received" her plea for negotiations between Russia, Ukraine Germany and France ("Normandy Format") to settle the conflict. However, Berlin's advantageous mediator role is being undermined by US measures - such as providing arms to Ukraine - and by Turkey. Last week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had also offered to serve as mediator between Moscow and Kiev, based on the good relations Turkey has with both Russia and Ukraine. While the Ukrainian president reiterated his call for NATO deploying warships to the Sea of Azov, Secretary-General of Germany's Christian Democratic Party, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, suggested barring Russian vessels sailing from the Crimea region from entering EU ports.

German Mediator Role

Chancellor Angela Merkel reiterated last weekend in Buenos Aires that Berlin would like to serve as mediator in the Russian-Ukrainian Sea of Azov conflict. As Merkel announced, she had proposed to Russian President Vladimir Putin negotiations in the "Normandy format" i.e. talks between representatives of Russia, Ukraine, Germany and France. Negotiations in this format have been taking place since 2014 to discuss the eastern Ukraine conflict. The fact that the United States does not participate suits Berlin's ideas of Germany playing a leading role in shaping conditions in its eastern European sphere of influence, including settling conflicts. However, without much success, because the conflict in eastern Ukraine has continued to smolder for four years. Merkel now pleads for discussing the Sea of Azov conflict at the level of foreign policy advisors of the four "Normandy" states. Putin has "approvingly received" the proposal, the chancellor announced Saturday on the sidelines of the G20 summit.[1]

Erdoğan's Telephone Diplomacy

The German claim for leadership in the negotiations to resolve the conflict, has, however, been undermined not only by US measures - such as providing arms to Ukraine - but also by Turkey, which has been increasingly acting more independently. Already in the middle of last week, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan intervened, telephoning Russian President Vladimir Putin, Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, and US-President Donald Trump for an exchange of views on the situation in the Black Sea. He continued talks on the subject over the weekend on the sidelines of the G20 summit. As a littoral state of the Black Sea, Turkey is in a favorable position to negotiate the conflict in the Sea of Azov, also because lately Ankara has been significantly expanding its foreign policy activities. If Ankara succeeds to mediating between Russia and Ukraine, it could "prove itself in the diplomatic sphere," according to observers.[2]

With Both Sides

Observers also point to other factors, providing Ankara with a favorable position for handling the Sea of Azov conflict. Turkey is one of the few countries with good relations to both sides of the conflict. Although it did not recognize the integration of Crimea into the Russian Federation, it did not join anti-Russian sanctions. It is closely cooperating with Moscow in the economic and political field. Ankara has just decided to purchase the Russian state of the art S-400 air defense missile system, not in US dollars but in rubles and lira, thereby participating in the efforts to reduce - and in the long run, end - the global dominance of the US dollar. It is also maintaining close relations with Turkic speaking Crimean Tartars, among whom it could easily foment unrest, which could become very harmful for Moscow, as it has already done in the past, at times in cooperation with Germany. (german-foreign-policy.com reported.[3]) In November, Erdogan promised Poroshenko that he would "continue to protect the rights of Crimean Tatars."[4]

Not the First Time

This is not the first time that Ankara's attempts to mediate have been in competition with Berlin's. This is similar to negotiations to end the war in Syria. Beginning in 2012, the German government was openly banking on the overthrow of the Syrian government. In close cooperation with the United States and Great Britain and backed by a group of exiled Syrian government opponents, it was publicly even planning for post-Assad Syria ("The Day After").[5] However, this and other such preparations fell flat, because the anticipated regime change in Damascus did not materialize. On the other hand, Turkey was successful with Russia and Iran ("Astana-Format") in engaging in decisive talks for ending the war in Syria. That has greatly enhanced Ankara's position in international politics. In late October, on Turkey's initiative, Chancellor Merkel participated along with Presidents Erdoğan, Putin and Macron in a four-party summit in Istanbul, which furthered coordination for post-war Syria.[6] Over the weekend, Erdoğan suggested, in Buenos Aires, that another four-party summit be held. A second four-party summit, in the usual format, would meet Germany's claim to playing a leading role in reforming the Middle East, even though it is annoyed by being somewhat dependent on Ankara.

"Deploy Warships"

In spite of this, the debate continues in the German capital over what concrete response should be taken in response to the Sea of Azov conflict. Subsequent to Ukrainian Ambassador to Germany Andrij Melnyk, Ukraine's President Poroshenko also called on Germany to deploy warships to the region of conflict. "Germany is one of our closest allies," declared Poroshenko in Germany's largest-selling tabloid - "and we hope, that in NATO, countries are now prepared to support Ukraine by redeploying naval vessels to the Sea of Azov."[7] In response to Kiev's demand, Russia has begun to redeploy a fourth air defense division - equipped with the extremely powerful S-400 missile defense system - to Crimea. The potential for escalation is acute.

Closed Ports

For the time being, Berlin and the EU have turned down the request to deploy battleships. Ex-Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel was quoted saying, a deployment of naval units would be nothing other than "a new edition of gunboat diplomacy."[8] Nevertheless, the discussion of whether to heighten escalation against Russia is continuing. For example, CDU General Secretary Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, proposes that Russian ships "from the Crimea region" should "not be allowed to enter European or US ports, as long as this situation with Ukraine is not settled."[9]


[1] Tjerk Brühwiller: Merkel regt Vermittlungstreffen zur Ukraine-Krise an. faz.net 01.12.2018.

[2] Yekaterina Chulkovskaya: Can Turkey mediate Russian-Ukrainian conflict on the Black Sea? al-monitor.com 29.11.2018.

[3] See also The Siege of Crimea (II).

[4] Yekaterina Chulkovskaya: Can Turkey mediate Russian-Ukrainian conflict on the Black Sea? al-monitor.com 29.11.2018.

[5] See also The Day After and The Day After (III).

[6] See also Der Gipfel von Istanbul.

[7] Paul Ronzheimer, Alexy Fuhrmann: "Wir brauchen sofort weitere Sanktionen gegen Putin". bild.de 29.11.2018.

[8], [9] Oliver Bilger: Streit um deutsche Reaktion auf Ukraine-Konflikt. tagesspiegel.de 01.12.2018.