Berlin and kyiv settle their disagreement after Zelenski’s invitation to the German president to visit Ukraine | International

From left to right, the German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz;  the president of Ukraine, Volodímir Zelensky, and the German president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
From left to right, the German Chancellor, Olaf Scholz; the president of Ukraine, Volodímir Zelensky, and the German president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier.JOHN MACDOUGALL RONALDO SCHEMIDT VLADIMIR SIMICEK (AFP)

A 45-minute call and the diplomatic crisis between Berlin and kyiv is over. The Ukrainian president, Volodímir Zelenski, invited this Thursday the German president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, and the chancellor, Olaf Scholz, to visit him soon in kyiv. The appointment does not yet have a date, but the mere fact that this invitation exists has calmed the waters in Berlin, where it was not understood that Scholz had not yet traveled to Ukraine when a dozen world leaders had already done so, including Joe Biden. , Boris Johnson, Ursula von der Leyen and António Guterres.

The conversation between Zelensky and Steinmeier, which sources from both sides described as “important” and “very good”, was intended to “smooth rough edges” after three weeks of tensions and continuous exchanges of reproaches. Relations between the countries soured in mid-April when Zelensky’s office told Steinmeier that he was not welcome in kyiv on a joint visit with his Polish and Baltic counterparts.

The rudeness felt bad in Berlin, especially Olaf Scholz, who has since refused to travel to kyiv. In a television interview this week he acknowledged his discomfort for the first time: “The fact that the President of the Federal Republic of Germany was rejected is an obstacle [a su propia visita]”. The foreign minister argued that Ukraine cannot treat the country that has given it the most economic aid even before the war with such indifference.

Steinmeier, a member of the SPD until he abandoned militancy when he became president in 2018, is considered one of the facilitators of the energy dependence that Russia has been weaving in Germany for decades. He grew up politically in the shadow of Gerhard Schröder, the former Social Democratic chancellor turned pariah for keeping his positions in Russian state-owned companies and defending Vladimir Putin. But his attitude has been the opposite: Steinmeier has publicly apologized for his lukewarm attitude towards Russia in the past and has acknowledged that he was wrong.

The height of tensions between Berlin and kyiv came after Scholz’s television interview, when the Ukrainian ambassador to Germany, Andrij Melnyk, criticized the chancellor for his refusal to meet with Zelensky. He called him “offended liver sausage”, an undiplomatic expression, between colloquial and insulting, which means that he acts offended without having reasons for it. Even Scholz’s political opponents felt that he had overdone it and demanded an apology.

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According to some German media, the head of the opposition, the Christian Democrat Friedrich Merz, is the one who has acted as mediator in his recent and controversial visit to kyiv. Several analysts have criticized his going ahead of Scholz and have seen political opportunism in his trip, which comes days before two regional elections in Germany.

Merz’s meeting with Zelensky added pressure to the foreign minister, who has been widely criticized in recent weeks for his reluctance to send heavy weapons to Ukraine. The coalition government of Social Democrats, Greens and Liberals has been changing its position since the beginning of the Russian invasion. First, he overturned his traditional foreign and defense policy by announcing a 100 billion fund to rearm the German Army and authorize the supply of defensive weapons. A week ago it went a step further by allowing the shipment of armored vehicles.

“It is good that our federal president and the Ukrainian president have talked and smoothed things over,” the chancellor wrote at the last minute on his Twitter, where he also announced that the first result of that conversation is that the foreign minister, Annalena Baerbock, will travel to Kyiv coming soon.

Despite the 180-degree turns, Scholz remains under suspicion for Ukraine, like all German Social Democrats of his generation: they are blamed for having cultivated too close a relationship with the Kremlin motivated by economic interests. Of Steinmeier, who was part of the governments of Schröder and Angela Merkel, Ambassador Melnyk said that he had “created a spider web of contacts with Russia.” Within the Scholz government, it has been the Greens who have openly acknowledged the mistakes of the past, such as the construction of the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.

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