Ukraine wants weapons not words from Germany after snubbing presidential trip

Adviser to Volodymyr Zelenskyy says Berlin should send Chancellor Olaf Scholz to visit Kyiv

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier during his trip to Poland on April 12. AFP
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Ukraine on Wednesday urged Germany to send its Chancellor Olaf Scholz to Kyiv with a promise of more arms deliveries after it snubbed a symbolic visit by the figurehead German president.

President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who has a mainly ceremonial role but has come under fire for his Russia-friendly stance when he was a government minister, said a proposed trip to Kyiv with other heads of state had been rejected by Ukraine.

An adviser to President Volodymyr Zelenskyy said on Wednesday that Ukraine did not mean to offend Mr Steinmeier but wanted Germany to send someone who could offer concrete help rather than merely warm words.

"Our president expects the chancellor so that he can take direct practical decisions, including weapons deliveries," the adviser, Oleksiy Arestovych, told ZDF television in Germany.

He compared the "terrible images" of the war to the destruction of Berlin at the end of the Second World War in 1945 and said the Russian army's behaviour in Ukraine "isn't any different".

Pressure has been mounting on Mr Scholz to visit Kyiv after several European heads of government including the UK's Boris Johnson made the trip to see Mr Zelenskyy in person.

The opposition Christian Democrats have urged Mr Scholz to "get an idea of the situation on the ground".

But the chancellor did not announce any plans to visit Kyiv when asked by RBB radio on Wednesday, instead saying he was speaking regularly to Mr Zelenskyy by phone.

"Hardly any head of state or government has such close contact with me," said Mr Scholz, who defended the volume of Germany's weapons exports and said it was irritating that the president's offer of a visit had been turned down.

It comes amid wider criticism of Germany over its weapons deliveries and resistance to an embargo on Russian fossil fuels after years of conciliatory policies towards the Kremlin, notably fronted by Mr Steinmeier.

Mr Steinmeier, who has admitted that his overtures to Russia were a failure, said he had hoped to visit Ukraine with the presidents of Poland, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania.

"I was ready for it, but apparently, and I have to accept this, it wasn't wanted in Kyiv," he said while on a visit to Poland.

The Polish and Baltic heads of state went to Ukraine without Mr Steinmeier on Wednesday, visiting the town of Borodyanka near Kyiv which Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda said was "permeated with pain and suffering".

"It is hard to believe that such war atrocities could be perpetrated in 21st century Europe, but that is the reality. This is a war we must win," Mr Nauseda said.

Mr Scholz, in office since December, has also come under fire for so far refusing to send heavy weapons to Ukraine, despite announcing an overhaul of Germany's defence policy after 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.

Critics want Mr Scholz to go further. Even his Economy Minister, Robert Habeck, has called for more urgent weapons deliveries.

"Anything that can help the Ukrainian army now must be sent quickly," Mr Habeck told German broadcasters.

Ukraine's ambassador to Germany, Andriy Melnyk, said "it would be important" for Mr Scholz to visit Kyiv and make the decision to send heavy weapons.

Germany has almost exhausted its ability to supply Ukraine with weapons from its army reserves, but it is working on direct deliveries from the arms industry, Defence Minister Christine Lambrecht said at the weekend.

Ukraine has received offers of tanks from Rheinmetall and other companies, including the Krauss-Maffei Wegmann arms group, reports say.

But some of the tanks could take many months to refurbish, while critics have also said Ukrainian soldiers would have to be trained to use them.

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Updated: April 13, 2022, 2:56 PM