Pressure is mounting on Germany over its response to the war in Ukraine as Kyiv has snubbed the country’s president and as Chancellor Olaf Scholz is accused of a weak response to the crisis.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier said he planned to travel to Ukraine together with other European leaders to show solidarity, but “that apparently wasn’t wanted in Kyiv”.
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Steinmeier’s comments on Tuesday, during a visit to Poland, came after the German newspaper Bild quoted an unidentified Ukrainian diplomat as saying that he’s not welcome in Kyiv at the moment because he had close relations with Russia in the past.
The snub comes as Steinmeier, a former foreign minister, is facing criticism at home and abroad for his years-long detente policy towards Moscow, which he has since admitted was a mistake.
Speaking in the Polish capital, Warsaw, Steinmeier said he had planned to travel to Kyiv with the presidents of Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania this week “to send a strong signal of joint European solidarity with Ukraine”.
“I was prepared to do this, but apparently, and I must take note of this, this was not wanted in Kyiv,” he told reporters.
Bild quoted an unnamed Ukrainian diplomat as saying: “We all know of Steinmeier’s close relations with Russia here … He is not welcome in Kyiv at the moment. We will see whether that changes.”
A German government delegation was due to travel to Ukraine on Tuesday, the AFP news agency reported, citing a source.
Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann of the liberal Free Democratic Party, Michael Roth of Scholz’s Social Democrats and Anton Hofreiter of the Greens were meeting members of the Ukrainian parliament in the west of the country, the source reportedly said, confirming a report in Der Spiegel magazine.
But following visits by several other leaders in recent days, including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, critics have asked why Scholz himself is not making the trip.
Scholz faces criticism
Ukraine’s ambassador to Germany, Andriy Melnyk, has said a Scholz trip to Kyiv would send a “strong signal”, while the opposition CDU has urged him to “get an idea of the situation on the ground”.
Even Strack-Zimmermann, a member of Scholz’s ruling coalition, suggested in an interview with the business daily Handelsblatt on Monday that he should “start using his powers of direction and leadership”.
The chancellor has also come under fire for so far refusing to send heavy weapons to Ukraine, despite his dramatic U-turn on Germany’s defence policy prompted by Russia’s invasion.
Germany had been reluctant for historical reasons to send weapons to Ukraine, but it has now sent anti-tank weapons, missile launchers and surface-to-air missiles in response to the conflict.
Steinmeier admits past mistakes
Steinmeier, a Social Democrat serving his second stint as German president, was a foreign minister in two of former Chancellor Angela Merkel’s governments. He has long been known for his Moscow-friendly stance.
He has been a leading advocate of the “Wandel durch Handel” (change through trade) concept, which argues that fostering close commercial ties can help spur democratic reforms.
Steinmeier also championed the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between Russia and Germany, which has now been halted over Moscow’s aggression in Ukraine.
Steinmeier recently admitted that his rapprochement approach towards Russian President Vladimir Putin had been misguided.
“I still hoped that Vladimir Putin possessed a remnant of rationality,” he told Der Spiegel weekly in an interview.
“I did not think that the Russian president would risk his country’s complete political, economic and moral ruin in the pursuit of an imperial delusion.”
He added that his own support for Nord Stream 2 “was a mistake, clearly”.
But he said there “can be no return to normal with Putin’s Russia” in Warsaw Tuesday alongside Polish counterpart Andrzej Duda, adding that the West would have to accept the costs of the conflict.
He accused Russia of committing “war crimes” in Ukraine and called on Moscow to make it possible to evacuate residents from the besieged Ukrainian port city of Mariupol.