Merkel to visit Ukraine weeks before stepping down



German Chancellor Angela Merkel, a key mediator in the conflict between pro-Russian separatists and Ukraine, will visit Kiev a few weeks before her departure, the Ukrainian presidency announced on Monday.

Berlin has been a key Kyiv ally since 2014, when Moscow annexed Crimea and pro-Russian separatists split from Ukraine, sparking a conflict that has so far claimed more than 13,000 lives.

The separatists are widely seen as having the political and military backing of Russia, although Moscow denies these claims.

Germany, France, Ukraine and Russia together form the so-called Norman format, a grouping that tries to resolve the conflict.

“German Chancellor Angela Merkel intends to visit Ukraine on August 22,” Sergiy Nykyforov, spokesperson for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, said on Facebook.

He said the topics of the negotiations would include security and bilateral relations.

His visit comes as Ukraine prepares to celebrate the 30th anniversary of its declaration of independence from the Soviet Union on August 24, a split that helped spark the collapse of the communist bloc.

In addition, Kiev is expected to host several European leaders on August 23 for a summit on how to return Crimea.

Merkel, who is expected to step down later this year after 16 years in office, is also keen to stress to her allies that Ukraine will remain a transit route for natural gas even after the completion of a controversial Russian gas pipeline.

The Nord Stream 2 pipeline, worth 10 billion euros ($ 12 billion), is expected to double Russian gas deliveries to Germany, Europe’s largest economy.

Berlin argues that it needs additional gas deliveries as it phase out coal and nuclear power.

But the project has been fiercely opposed by the United States and several European countries, who argue that it will increase energy dependence on Russia and Moscow’s geopolitical weight.

The pipeline bypasses Ukraine’s gas infrastructure, depriving the nation of much-needed transit fees and, Kiev fears, removing key control over possible Russian aggression in the region.



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