Pressure grows on Scholz as German delegation visits Ukraine

Pressure was mounting on German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Tuesday to show more leadership over the war in Ukraine as critics demanded he visit Kyiv and provide more weapons to the war-torn country.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) and Economics Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) speak at a cabinet meeting
Chancellor Olaf Scholz (SPD) and Economics Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) speak at a cabinet meeting in Berlin on April 12th, 2022. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/Reuters/POOL | Annegret Hilse

In the first trip by a high-level German government delegation since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, three top politicians were due to travel to Ukraine on Tuesday, a source told AFP.

Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann of the liberal FDP, Michael Roth of Scholz’s Social Democrats and Anton Hofreiter of the Greens were meeting members of the Ukrainian parliament in the west of the country, the source said, confirming a report in Der Spiegel magazine.

A spokesman for Roth said they were “on their way to Ukraine”, without giving further details “for security reasons”.

The visit from the heads of the German parliament’s committees on defence, foreign affairs and Europe, respectively, is the first trip by a high-level German government delegation since Russia invaded Ukraine in February.

READ ALSO: Germany’s Scholz under fire after Zelensky’s fierce appeal

But following visits by several other leaders in recent days, including British Prime Minister Boris Johnson and EU chief Ursula von der Leyen, critics have asked why Scholz himself is not making the trip.

While Johnson was “walking side by side with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in Kyiv” on Saturday, “Scholz was waving at an election campaign rally in Lübeck” ahead of an upcoming regional vote, the Bild daily noted.

“I wish our chancellor would follow (the example of the other leaders) and get an idea of the situation on the ground,” said the conservative foreign policy expert Roderich Kiesewetter.

 ‘Strong signal’ 

Ukraine’s ambassador to Germany, Andriy Melnyk, has said a Scholz trip to Kyiv would send a “strong signal”, while the opposition CDU has urged him to “get an idea of the situation on the ground”.

Even Strack-Zimmermann, a member of Scholz’s ruling coalition, suggested in an interview with the business daily Handelsblatt on Monday that he should “start using his powers of direction and leadership”.

In office as chancellor since December, Scholz has often been mocked for his taciturn demeanour and was once dubbed “Scholzomat” for his boring, robotic speeches.

He suffered his first embarrassing defeat in parliament earlier this month, with lawmakers voting down a government-backed proposal for mandatory Covid-19 vaccinations.

The chancellor has also come under fire for his hesitancy over sending heavy weapons to Ukraine, despite his dramatic U-turn on Germany’s defence policy prompted by Russia’s invasion.

READ ALSO: Zeitenwende: How war in Ukraine has sparked a historic shift in Germany

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 in response to the conflict.

However, Melnyk told Deutschlandfunk radio last week that he wanted Scholz to go further, providing “heavy weapons, tanks, armoured vehicles, artillery systems, multiple rocket launchers”.

The three politicians visiting Ukraine on Tuesday are all in favour of delivering heavy weapons to Ukraine.

‘Insecure government’

Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock, from the Green party, also voiced support for such a move on the sidelines of an EU foreign ministers’ meeting in Luxembourg on Monday.

This prompted a claim from the NTV broadcaster that Baerbock is “showing the chancellor how it’s done” and has surpassed Scholz to become “the one who sets the pace in an insecure government”.

Roth told Deutschlandfunk he thought Baerbock’s stance was “certainly correct” and Ukraine must be in a position to “negotiate with Russia from a position of strength and preparedness”.

Germany has almost exhausted its ability to supply Ukraine with weapons from its army reserves, but 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 as well as other companies including the Krauss-Maffei Wegmann (KMW) arms group, according to media reports.

Ukrainian army

Ukrainian troops sit on a military vehicle in Hostomel, Ukraine. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/SOPA Images via ZUMA Press Wire | Jana Cavojska

However, some of the tanks could reportedly take many months to refurbish, while critics have also pointed out that Ukrainian soldiers would have to be trained to use them.

“It’s not just a matter of getting in the vehicle and driving off, unless you want to expose yourself to the risk of being attacked immediately,” Strack-Zimmermann said in an interview with Der Spiegel.

Instead, Strack-Zimmermann suggested sending tanks to Ukraine from Eastern European countries that would be easier for Ukrainian soldiers to use immediately.

READ ALSO: Germany has ‘reached limit’ on arms shipments to Ukraine, defence minister admits

By Femke Colborne

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Rapping, breakdancing Ukrainians win Eurovision in musical morale boost

Ukraine won the Eurovision Song Contest Sunday with an infectious hip-hop folk melody, boosting spirits in the embattled nation fighting off a Russian invasion that has killed thousands and displaced millions of people.

Rapping, breakdancing Ukrainians win Eurovision in musical morale boost

Riding a huge wave of public support, Kalush Orchestra beat 24 competitors in the finale of the world’s biggest live music event with “Stefania”, a rap lullaby combining Ukrainian folk and modern hip-hop rhythms.

“Please help Ukraine and Mariupol! Help Azovstal right now,” implored frontman Oleh Psiuk in English from the stage after their performance was met by a cheering audience.

In the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, the triumph was met with smiles and visible relief.

“It’s a small ray of happiness. It’s very important now for us,” said Iryna Vorobey, a 35-year-old businesswoman, adding that the support from Europe was “incredible”.

Following the win, Psiuk — whose bubblegum-pink bucket hat has made him instantly recognisable — thanked everyone who voted for his country in the contest, which is watched by millions of viewers.

“The victory is very important for Ukraine, especially this year. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Glory to Ukraine,” Psiuk told journalists.

Music conquers Europe

The win provided a much-needed morale boost for the embattled nation in its third month of battling much-larger Russian forces.

Mahmood & BLANCO  performing for Italy at Eurovision 2022

Mahmood & BLANCO perform on behalf of Italy during the final of the Eurovision Song contest 2022 in Turin, Italy. (Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP)

“Our courage impresses the world, our music conquers Europe!” he wrote on Facebook.

“This win is so very good for our mood,” Andriy Nemkovych, a 28 year-old project manager, told AFP in Kyiv.

The victory drew praise in unlikely corners, as the deputy chief of the NATO military alliance said it showed just how much public support ex-Soviet Ukraine has in fighting off Moscow.

“I would like to congratulate Ukraine for winning the Eurovision contest,” Mircea Geoana said as he arrived in Berlin for talks that will tackle the alliance’s expansion in the wake of the Kremlin’s war.

“And this is not something I’m making in a light way because we have seen yesterday the immense public support all over Europe and Australia for the bravery of” Ukraine, Geoana said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the win “a clear reflection of not just your talent, but of the unwavering support for your fight for freedom”.

And European Council President Charles Michel said he hoped next year’s contest “can be hosted in Kyiv in a free and united Ukraine”.

‘Ready to fight’
Despite the joyous theatrics that are a hallmark of the song contest, the war in Ukraine hung heavily over the festivities this year.
The European Broadcasting Union, which organises the event, banned Russia on February 25, the day after Moscow invaded its neighbour.
“Stefania”, written by Psiuk as a tribute to his mother before the war, mixes traditional Ukrainian folk music played on flute-like instruments with an invigorating hip-hop beat. The band donned richly embroidered ethnic garb
to perform their act.
Nostalgic lyrics such as “I’ll always find my way home even if all the roads are destroyed” resonated all the more as millions of Ukrainians have been displaced by war.

Kalush Orchestra received special authorisation from Ukraine’s government to attend Eurovision, since men of fighting age are prohibited from leaving the country, but that permit expires in two days.

Psiuk said he was not sure what awaited the band as war rages back home.

“Like every Ukrainian, we are ready to fight as much as we can and go until the end.

Britain’s ‘Space Man’

Ukraine beat a host of over-the-top acts at the kitschy, quirky annual musical event, including Norway’s Subwoolfer, who sang about bananas while dressed in yellow wolf masks, and Serbia’s Konstrakta, who questioned national healthcare while meticulously scrubbing her hands onstage.

Coming in second place was Britain with Sam Ryder’s “Space Man” and its stratospheric notes, followed by Spain with the reggaeton “SloMo” from Chanel.

After a quarter-century of being shut out from the top spot, Britain had hoped to have a winner in “Space Man” and its high notes belted by the affable, long-haired Ryder.

Britain had been ahead after votes were counted from the national juries, but a jaw-dropping 439 points awarded to Ukraine from the public pushed it to the top spot.

Eurovision’s winner is chosen by a cast of music industry professionals — and members of the public — from each country, with votes for one’s home nation not allowed.

Eurovision is a hit among fans not only for the music, but for the looks on display and this year was no exception. Lithuania’s Monika Liu generated as much social media buzz for her bowl cut hairdo as her sensual and elegant

Other offerings included Greece’s “Die Together” by Amanda Georgiadi Tenfjord and “Brividi” (Shivers), a duet from Italy’s Mahmood and Blanco.

Italy had hoped the gay-themed love song would bring it a second consecutive Eurovision win after last year’s “Zitti e Buoni” (Shut up and Behave) from high-octane glam rockers Maneskin.