The German Chancellor may finally be travelling to Ukraine
Calling someone a ‘sulky liver sausage’ may sound more like something out of a script for Blackadder rather than an example of European diplomacy. But when the Ukrainian ambassador in Berlin, Andriy Melnyk, used those words to describe the German chancellor Olaf Scholz earlier this week, they appear to have forced the government into making an effort to patch things up between Berlin and Kyiv.
Scholz had declared in a TV interview this week that he had no plans to travel to Kyiv to see the Ukrainian president because the German president Frank-Walter Steinmeier was snubbed last month. The Chancellor has since claimed that the rescinded invitation of his party colleague was not a personal affront to him but “a problem for the German people too”.
However, Zelenskyy’s snub against Steinmeier was targeted at the president personally, not “the German people”. When Crimea was annexed in 2014, Steinmeier, then foreign minister, had been a key architect of the lacklustre German response to this act of aggression. He has also long been a proponent of Nord Stream 2 and was seen to have very friendly relations with senior Russian politicians like Sergey Lavrov. While he has recently expressed some regret over his past actions, it is his political legacy that Zelenskyy rejected, not the country as a whole.
Indeed, other German politicians have felt less affronted than Scholz and travelled to Ukraine irrespective of the chancellor’s views. Opposition leader, Friedrich Merz, who now runs Angela Merkel’s CDU party, arrived in Kyiv by night train on Tuesday. Of course, the trip was a perfect PR stunt aimed at domestic audiences as much as Ukraine. ‘Opposition overtakes government in sleeper train’ was too good a headline to miss.
While neither Melnyk’s insult nor Merz’s stunt will offer much help to Zelenskyy, they are nevertheless effective in maintaining domestic pressure on the government to do more. And it seems to have worked. President Steinmeier spoke to his Ukrainian counterpart on the phone today and his office reported that this “very important” conversation had led to an invitation of ‘the entire German leadership’ to Kyiv, including Steinmeier himself.
This is indeed a “very important” step in the right direction. That Germany still can and should do a lot more to hamper Putin’s war is clear. The country continues to pay an average of 116 million euros to Russia every single day — a figure that even surpasses pre-war levels. While exports to Russia have been severely reduced, imports from there to Germany have increased — to 3.6 billion euros in March alone, 44% higher than in the previous year. By comparison, support for Ukraine has only amounted to half that figure, 1.8 billion euros.
While it may not have been the most diplomatic approach, Melnyk was quite right to point out that, “this is the most brutal war…not a kindergarten.” Scholz and Steinmeier may have been personally affronted by the snub against the president but hurt feelings cannot be allowed to be the basis of German foreign policy while a brutal war is raging in Europe. If the ambassador’s unconventional approach has pushed Steinmeier into swallowing his pride and talk things through with Zelenskyy, then that is to be applauded. More German help in Ukraine is urgently needed.