In a speech combining an appeal for fresh aid for his besieged country with criticism of Berlin’s long accommodating stance toward Moscow, Zelensky
recalled Germany’s own triumph over its Cold War division.
“It’s not a Berlin Wall — it is a Wall in central Europe between freedom and bondage and this Wall is growing bigger with every bomb” dropped on Ukraine, Zelensky told MPs, echoing an appeal to history deployed before the
Appearing on a screen in his now trademark khaki T-shirt with dark circles under his eyes, Zelensky was welcomed by MPs in the Bundestag lower house with a standing ovation.
In a grave tone, he directly addressed Scholz, who faced fresh attacks from the conservative opposition for a halting stance in the crisis.
“Dear Mr Scholz, tear down this Wall,” he implored, evoking US President Ronald Reagan’s 1987 appeal to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev at Berlin’s Brandenburg Gate.
“Give Germany the leadership role that you in Germany deserve.”
However Zelensky coupled his flattery with a strong rebuke of Berlin’s years-long reluctance to stand up to Moscow and sever its strong energy and business ties with Russia.
“We turned to you,” he said. “We told you that Nord Stream (gas pipelines) was a kind of preparation for the war.”
“And the answer we got was purely economic – it is economy, economy, economy but that was the mortar for the new Wall.”
Commentators said Zelensky’s speech was clearly harsher than seen in other countries. And the reaction from German parliament also differed. Although there was a standing ovation to Zelensky’s 15 minute speech, German politicians quickly got back to everyday business.
I watched @ZelenskyyUa speeches to the European Parliament, the UK House of Commons and now the Bundestag.
His address to the German Parliament included the most – in my opinion deserved – criticism, and got the least dignified reaction: A cold shoulder and back to business.
— Nicolai von Ondarza (@NvOndarza) March 17, 2022
Christian Democrat Norbert Röttgen, who is calling for a total Russian energy embargo, led a chorus of conservative criticism of the government after
Zelensky’s speech, saying Scholz should have addressed parliament immediately afterwards.
He called the awkwardness “the most undignified moment in the Bundestag… that I have ever experienced!”
His party colleague, Roderich Kiesewetter, called it “baffling” that parliament continued with plans to debate a national vaccine mandate Thursday
rather than on Germany’s Ukraine policy in the wake of Zelensky’s appeal.
“I would have wished for more respect with regard to the suffering of the Ukrainian people due to Putin’s war of extermination!” he wrote on Twitter.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine on February 24th prompted an overhaul of key planks of Germany’s energy, economic and security policy – some of them dating back to the end of World War II.
It has put the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project on ice, joined allies in imposing punishing sanctions on Ukraine and pledged a massive increase in defence spending while dropping a ban on arms exports to conflict zones in order to aid Ukraine.
Zelensky delivers a difficult speech to the Bundestag, and MPs immediately, awkwardly move on to other business. If Scholz's Zeitenwende is to be worthy of the name, parliament will have to get stuck in too.
— Tom Nuttall (@tom_nuttall) March 17, 2022
Germany has also said it aims to be nearly free of Russian oil imports by the end of this year although it still remains heavily dependent on Russian gas.
However the government led by Olaf Scholz has resisted an outright halt to Russian energy imports, warning it would cause winter shortages and drive inflation, creating potential instability in Europe’s top economy.
‘Stop this war’
Zelensky stressed that the future of the continent was at stake in the current war and argued that governments across the West were failing to meet the moment.
“Every year politicians repeat ‘never again’,” the Ukrainian leader said, referring to annual Holocaust commemorations.
“And now, we see that these words simply mean nothing. A people is being destroyed in Europe,” he said, noting that 108 children had been killed in his country since the start of the Russian offensive.
“Help us stop this war.”
At a Thursday evening press conference, Chancellor Scholz was asked to respond to Zelensky’s words.
“I would like to say that Mr Zelensky’s speech today moved me very much, it was something very special,” Scholz said.