German opposition leader visits Kyiv as Scholz refuses to go

Relations have been strained in recent weeks over Kyiv’s refusal to invite Germany’s president

German opposition leader Friedrich Merz during his visit to Irpin, Ukraine, on May 3. AP

German conservative opposition leader Friedrich Merz travelled to Kyiv on Tuesday for meetings with Ukrainian officials including President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, as Chancellor Olaf Scholz made it clear that he would not visit Ukraine any time soon.

Mr Scholz has traded barbs with Ukrainian officials in recent weeks because of Kyiv’s refusal to invite German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who Ukraine accuses of close relations with Russia during his time as foreign minister.

“It can’t work that a country that provides so much military aid, so much financial aid … you then say that the president can’t come,” Mr Scholz told public broadcaster ZDF late on Monday.

Ukraine’s ambassador in Berlin, Andrij Melnyk, responded on Tuesday by calling Mr Scholz’s refusal to visit “not very statesmanlike.”

“This is about the most brutal war of extermination since the Nazi invasion of Ukraine. It’s not kindergarten,” Mr Melnyk said.

Mr Merz, who leads former chancellor Angela Merkel’s centre-right Union bloc, visited the town of Irpin, on the outskirts of Kyiv, to see the destruction caused by the Russian army.

Against a backdrop of shelled buildings, he expressed his “full admiration” for the Ukrainian military for having halted the Russian advance at Irpin, and pledged to help the town rebuild.

Mr Merz later met with senior officials including Mr Zelenskyy, saying afterwards that he had “extraordinarily good talks” with the Ukrainian President.

Political rivals accused him of using the visit to score points against Mr Scholz days before two German state elections in which Mr Merz’s Christian Democratic Union is hoping to retain power.

The Union bloc last week joined Germany’s three governing parties in a non-binding vote backing the delivery of heavy weapons to Ukraine.

German media report that the government is planning to approve further armaments for Ukraine soon, including large, self-propelled howitzers.

Critics, particularly on the far-left and right, have argued against providing weapons to Ukraine, saying Germany risks being drawn into a conflict with Russia.

German authorities say they have recorded the arrival of about 400,000 refugees from Ukraine since the start of the war.

Updated: May 03, 2022, 9:29 PM