by James Hawes
Wednesday, 13
April 2022
Reaction
17:37

Zelensky gives Germany’s president the cold shoulder

The Ukrainian leader wants weapons, not penitent visits from has-been leaders
by James Hawes
Credit: Getty

Today, a train is headed for Kyiv, carrying the four presidents of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia. They would have been five, except that the Ukrainians slapped down a proposal that they be accompanied by Frank-Walter Steinmeier, President of Germany, accusing him of having been too close to Russia for too long.

What on earth is Volodymyr Zelensky doing, you might wonder? Steinmeier is a moderate Social Democrat who was for years Angela Merkel’s foreign minister and was re-elected, as a non-partisan figurehead for the German state, by an enormous majority of the Bundestag, only a week before the Russians opened fire on Ukraine. Surely, welcoming him would have had no possible downside and substantial potential advantage? Doesn’t Zelensky understand that Germany is in the middle of an epochal change (“Zeitenwende”) in its foreign and defence policy? Isn’t that exactly what he wants, and needs? And didn’t Steinmeier on 4 April do something which very few politicians ever do — admit that in pursuing his pet idea, that Putin could be bribed into some kind of normality, he had been wrong for years?

Certain German officials believe Zelensky has made an error. Rolf Muetzenich, the ruling SPD’s “Fraktionschef” (i.e. Bundestag House Majority Leader) thinks so. His official statement today concluded that:

While we fully understand the existential danger in which Ukraine stands because of the Russian invasion, I expect Ukraine‘s representatives to maintain a basic level of diplomatic behaviour and not interfere in an improper manner in the internal politics of our country.
- Rolf Muetzenich

That’s quite a charge. The Ukrainians were, of course, not interfering at all in Germany’s internal affairs. But thereby hangs a tale, and the explanation for Zelensky’s action. Muetzenich is one of those politicians to whom the phrase “on the other hand” (“anderseits”) is meat and drink. In other words, he believes that the West deserves some share of the blame for the invasion, a version of the popular realist view that NATO should not have expanded eastwards. A close look at Steinmaier’s famous apology earlier this month shows that he belongs in the same camp: “Like others, I was wrong … We failed to establish a common European house that includes Russia”. Never mind that sneaky attempt to hide behind collective responsibility (“Like others…”); Steinmeier seems to imply that “our” mistake wasn’t in failing to see the truth about Putin’s Russia — even after the Crimea — but in failing to make a tempting and “inclusive” enough invitation.

Ukraine no longer has time for this stuff. It does not want penitent visits from has-been figureheads seeking absolution from Saint Volodymyr. If anyone goes to Kyiv, it should be Olaf Scholz, and he cannot go empty-handed, because as Judy Dempsey, Editor in Chief at Strategic Europe, tweeted yesterday: “The buck stops with @Bundeskanzler.” Ukraine needs weapons. And it thinks that if Europe’s most powerful country won’t deliver them it should at least have the guts to stop diluting its own sanctions.

Ukraine isn’t interfering in German politics and it’s not insulting Germany. It’s just saying what we all, including more and more Germans know: that enough is enough.

Join the discussion


To join the discussion, get the free daily email and read more articles like this, sign up.

It's simple, quick and free.

Sign me up
Subscribe
Notify of
guest
4 Comments
Most Voted
Newest Oldest
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Deborah B
Deborah B
2 months ago

The objectionable quote begins … ‘While we fully understand the existential danger in which Ukraine stands …’
Clearly they do not.

JP Martin
JP Martin
2 months ago

Good for him. Germany should not be allowed to launder its image with cheap theatrics.

Stephen Walshe
Stephen Walshe
2 months ago

The SPD have been in government at national level for all but 4 of the last 24 years. Indeed, Angela Merkel was effectively an SPD Chancellor, implementing SPD policies. All this is on them. How on earth they managed to win the last election is bewildering.

Neven Curlin
Neven Curlin
2 months ago

All bow to the actor Zelensky! Slava Ukraini! Slava Herojam!