Editor’s Note: This feature separates Ukraine’s friends from its enemies. The Order of Yaroslav the Wise has been given since 1995 for distinguished service to the nation. It is named after the Kyivan Rus leader from 1019-1054, when the medieval empire reached its zenith. The Order of Lenin was the highest decoration bestowed by the Soviet Union, whose demise Russian President Vladimir Putin mourns. It is named after Vladimir Lenin, whose corpse still rots on the Kremlin’s Red Square, more than 100 years after the October Revolution he led.
Ukraine’s Friend of the Week: Inese Lībiņa-Egnere, Latvian lawmaker
When it comes to searching for friendship, solidarity and inspiration in Europe, besieged Ukraine increasingly looks to the northwest, to the Baltic states.
In the south and southwest of Europe, Ukraine has few friends. To the west, Poland, Slovakia and Romania are basically reliable. Hungary and the Czech Republic are far less so. Austria, Germany and France — that is complicated, and we’ll come back to it later.
The U.K. is a firm ally, but Brexit is a constant problem and a never-ending distraction from world affairs that extend beyond the bedlam in Brussels.
And so those countries in Europe’s chilly northwest, firmly within the Russian sphere of influence and zone of interference, are more often than ever looked to for support by the Euro Optimists in Kyiv.
And they provide it in buckets, in more ways than one. After all, they have something in common with Ukraine, so it’s not surprising they are often first to condemn Moscow’s hybrid aggression and first to stand with Ukraine in multilateral forums across Europe and beyond.
The Baltic states of Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia understand Russian aggression. They have also freed themselves from the shackles of Communist oppression and know the nature of the beast that now lives in the Kremlin.
Today, the Baltic countries are constantly dogged by Russian aircraft breaching their airspace and testing their defenses. NATO fighters are scrambled to intercept Russian aircraft on a near-daily basis, and the number of incidents, especially over Estonia, is on the rise.
Down on the ground and Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia have to cope with various other forms of Russian intrusion. Disinformation, hacking and election interference has remained a part of Baltic life, ever since independence from the Soviet Union.
Ukraine, though thousands of kilometers away, is a logical ally.
In June, at the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe (PACE), that bond was tested, and the Baltic states were not found lacking.
When the major, liberal European democracies of France, Germany, Italy and Spain voted overwhelmingly to restore Russian voting rights at the Assembly, it was the Baltic states, Georgia, Slovakia and Poland that stood with Ukraine in opposing the motion and then walked out in protest. The U.K. was the only other delegation to oppose Russia’s unconditional return to PACE.
This week, the states that walked out in protest have returned to their seats, but now they’re organizing opposition to Russian aggression from within the forum of PACE. The delegations of Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, Ukraine and Georgia said on Oct. 2 that they had formed a bloc at the Council in opposition to Russia.
Sources in PACE tell the Kyiv Post that this grouping was formed at a meeting in Riga, Latvia, and we know that the Latvian lawmaker and head PACE delegate Inese Lībiņa-Egnere was instrumental in its formation. Her opposition to Russia’s unconditional return is hardly surprising, given her background in legal affairs, human rights, law and justice.
“If our… voice is not heard, we will be more unpredictable,” tweeted Lībiņa-Egnere on Oct. 2, following the Baltic+ announcement. “The European Parliament must protect its values and not turn a blind eye to the Kremlin atrocities in Ukraine and Georgia,” she added.
Often it seems that European countries are indeed turning a blind eye to the suffering of Ukraine and Georgia, failing to act in defense of so-called European values while Ukrainian soldiers die on an eastern European war front.
It is a sad irony that smaller, more junior members of the European family of peoples must often be depended on to take a stand in speaking up for and defending freedom in Europe.
We in Ukraine thank them for doing so, and we need them to know that it does not go unnoticed.
It is clear that Inese Lībiņa-Egnere is a stalwart defender of freedom and justice, a true friend to Ukraine and an example to the rest of Europe. We thank her, as well as all the delegates of Georgia, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, for co-founding the Baltic+ group with Ukraine and we wish them strength and fortune in the struggle to come.
For her leading role in this effort, we at the Kyiv Post are pleased to award Lībiņa-Egnere with the Order or Yaroslav the Wise, the highest honor we can bestow to a true friend of Ukraine.
Ukraine’s Foe of the Week: Angela Merkel, German Chancellor
And that brings us to Germany, which is a complicated country to discuss in Ukraine.
Firstly, Germany and the German people are in no way enemies of Ukraine, despite what the current occupant of the White House may think.
In fact, in many ways, the German people have been extremely supportive and generous to Ukraine in its times of greatest peril. It can be said that Germany, especially as a major contributor to European frameworks and NATO, is one of Ukraine’s strongest and most important allies.
That is why it is so troubling that the German government, led by Angela Merkel, are doing things that are extremely unhelpful to Ukraine. In some cases, Berlin policies and strategic goals could be actively harmful, with severe consequences for Kyiv and the Ukrainian people.
When an enemy harms you, it can only hurt so much. It is pain inflicted by a so-called friend that cuts the deepest.
In the belief that Germany can do more and do better, and in the interest of improving this relationship, here are some of the main concerns we have with Angela Merkel and her government.
Nord Stream 2
The German government’s accelerating pursuit of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline with Russia, now about 83 percent done, is extremely harmful to Ukraine and other countries in Europe that are investing in their energy security, or dependent on natural gas transit fees through their territory. With its proposed route under the Baltic Sea, the $12 billion pipeline allows Moscow to avoid transporting its Europe-bound gas through Ukraine, depriving Kyiv of billions in transit fees and placing further energy-related pressure on the besieged nation. It also undermines European security and rewards Russia at a time when it should be a pariah for its pan-European aggression. The U.K. and the U.S. are strongly opposed to Nord Stream 2 on the grounds that it is basically a Trojan Horse, but when have those countries ever been worth listening to when it comes to questions of European security?
More broadly, Berlin’s intensifying pursuit of deeper and closer business ties with Moscow, as German businesses earmark billions for investment in Russia, is a huge cause for concern. This April, bilateral trade between the two countries hit an all-time high of $3 billion, despite European sanctions. You can be assured that’s a lot of rubles in the pockets of Putin’s pals.
Zero military support
It is wrong that Europe’s most powerful nations — with the exception of the United Kingdom — do not support Ukraine militarily and are not invested in bolstering the nation’s defense capacity. Trump and Zelensky are correct in pointing that out for criticism. When Russian proxy forces and soldiers first invaded Crimea and attacked the Donbas, it fell to the Baltic states to send much-needed ammunition — which was airlifted to Ukraine by the British Royal Air Force. France and Germany sat on their hands. They have had years to stand up to Russia and help prevent Ukrainian deaths but have routinely failed to do so. Instead, they’ve counted on U.S. military muscle to do all the heavy lifting.
Germany said it was set to recognize illegal Russian passports issued to citizens of Ukraine’s occupied Donbas territory, until the European Union intervened on Oct. 3, issuing guidance to member states and advising that such Russian passport holders would need a visa issued in Ukraine. After all, the Donbas is still Ukrainian, for now.
And finally, we come to the much-discussed ‘Steinmeier Formula’, the German peace proposal for the Donbas which, as of this week, is now being heralded as a silver bullet to end Russia’s five-year war against Ukraine. Merkel, her ambassadors to the Normandy Four peace talks and the French have been aggressively pushing the Formula on Ukraine, and Kyiv signed up to it in recent days. But it says nothing about the withdrawal of Russian troops or proxy forces, heavy weapons or what will happen with the borders that were essentially redrawn by force. All it does is call for elections in the occupied territory, followed by a level of autonomy that basically amounts to independence. This would surely result in the eventual, soft federalization of the Donbas by Russia. No wonder it was popular in the Kremlin.