Leak of Zelenskyy trip adds to Germany's security woes

Berlin refuses to confirm whether visit by Ukrainian President is still planned

Ukraine's President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is tipped to meet German Chancellor Olaf Scholz in Berlin this month. Getty
Powered by automated translation

The leak of a planned visit to Berlin by Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy is Germany’s latest apparent security lapse after a spy scandal hit its intelligence service.

Berlin police are investigating a “suspected betrayal of secrets” after a newspaper was tipped off about the trip on May 13-14, which is now in doubt.

The newspaper BZ was passed details such as which hotel Mr Zelenskyy would stay in and what measures would be taken to block roads and counter potential terrorist threats.

“I find it intolerable … that an individual colleague has damaged the national and international reputation of Berlin police in such an embarrassing way,” said police president Barbara Slowik.

Visits involving Mr Zelenskyy, a wartime leader, are usually kept under wraps and the leak led to questions about whether his trip to Germany could still go ahead.

Wolfgang Buechner, a spokesman for German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, would not say on Friday whether the visit was still planned.

“If such a visit were happening, we would announce it at short notice,” he said.

There was high security when Olaf Scholz visited Kyiv last year. Getty

Mr Scholz’s trip to Kyiv last year with the leaders of France, Italy and Romania similarly leaked out before it happened, in contrast to visits by the leaders of the US and UK.

Germany’s foreign intelligence service (BND) was rocked in December when an agent was arrested on suspicion of passing secrets to Russia.

The case, uncovered with the help of America’s FBI, led to questions about how the suspected mole had been missed.

MPs overseeing the agency, who normally work in secret, have taken the unusual step of publishing a report saying background checks on agents were outdated.

They said some staff handling top-secret information were not subject to regular reviews.

“The changed security situation for Germany, not least because of the Russian invasion of Ukraine, makes it necessary to reassess the security-check procedure and adjust it to current threats and challenges,” they said.

“The current investigations against a BND employee on suspicion of treason indicate an urgent need to reform the current procedures.”

MPs in Berlin have warned of a growing security threat amid hostility between Russia and Germany. AP

Ms Slowik, the police president, said she could only assume that the source of the Zelenskyy leak did not realise the significance of their actions.

“Placing a higher priority on newspaper headlines than the reliability of the Berlin police, and the trust placed in us, is not to be tolerated,” she said.

Germany has had tetchy relations with Ukraine despite its hefty military and financial aid, and a visit by Mr Zelenskyy would be regarded as significant after he skipped Berlin on a recent trip to London, Paris and Brussels.

After staying in Ukraine for most of the war’s first year, Mr Zelenskyy has recently ventured abroad more often and was in Finland this week for a meeting with Nordic leaders.

A trip to Germany could also include a stop in Aachen to receive the Charlemagne Prize, which is being awarded to Mr Zelenskyy for displaying “courage, leadership and tactical sensitivity”.

Germany, Ukraine and Russia will hold commemorations next week to mark 78 years since the end of the Second World War.

Russia on Wednesday claimed it had foiled a supposed Ukrainian attempt to assassinate President Vladimir Putin in the lead-up to the Victory Day parade. Kyiv denied involvement.

Updated: May 05, 2023, 1:13 PM

View from London

Your weekly update from the UK and Europe

View from London