The much anticipated meeting between Merkel, Hollande and Poroshenko in Berlin has come and gone, attracting surprisingly little international media attention – an interesting fact in itself.
The meeting took place against the background of a steady deterioration in the situation in the Donbass, with growing fears the Ukrainians were about to launch another offensive.
Poroshenko is supposed to have called the meeting. Presumably he did so in the hope of getting support from Merkel and Hollande.
However if Poroshenko was looking for resounding statements of support, he didn’t get them.
Whilst we do not know what was said in private, publicly Merkel and Hollande reaffirmed their support for Minsk II and demanded that its terms be strictly complied with.
Since it is now no longer contested that it is the Ukrainians who are failing to carry out Minsk II, this could be interpreted as an implied rebuke of the Ukrainians.
Perhaps more significant is that the meeting ended without the usual overblown condemnations of Putin and of Russia – blaming him and Russia for the deterioration of the situation.
Instead Merkel said that “after hearing what the Ukrainian side had to say”, she would “consult with the Russian leadership to hear what they had to say”.
This, and some commentary that has appeared recently in the Western media worrying that the West is in the process of abandoning Ukraine, suggests that – as the Russians demanded prior to the meeting – Merkel warned Poroshenko against any further military action.
It may not be a coincidence that following the meeting Ukrainian shelling of the Donbass is reported to have died down.
None of this means an imminent end to the conflict.
Merkel may have warned Poroshenko off an offensive. However there is not the slightest evidence she put any pressure on him to compromise.
As for her vainglorious comment about hearing what both sides have to say, that makes her sound less like a diplomat and more like a judge. Both sides must wonder by what right Merkel judges them?
German youth slang has invented a new verb – “merkeln” (‘to merkel”) – apparently meaning “being indecisive, or failing to have an opinion on something”.
According to surveys this verb is the most popular recent addition to German youth slang. It shows the extent to which the point we repeatedly make – that Merkel is a weak and indecisive leader – has now become accepted in Germany itself.
This verb describes exactly Merkel’s behaviour at the summit.
She appears to have acted to stop the Ukrainians launching an offensive she knows they would lose, which would force her into more negotiations like the ones that took place in February in Moscow and Minsk, which might expose her to more criticism, which she doesn’t want.
At the same time she refuses to do anything to resolve the conflict, which is the ultimate cause of the crisis, because that too would expose her to criticism she doesn’t want.
Instead she acts to put the crisis on the back burner, perpetuating a status quo that suits her but no-one else, and which everyone knows is unsustainable.
Merkel’s strange mixture of vanity and weakness has played a key role in creating the Ukrainian crisis.
It is also playing a key role in prolonging it.
Based on what has come out of the summit in Berlin, nothing has changed.