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UKRAINE

Scholz ‘irritated’ by Kyiv’s snub to German president

Chancellor Olaf Scholz said Wednesday he was"irritated" by Kyiv's rejection of a proposed visit by Germany's president, a snub that has ruffled diplomatic feathers at a time when the war-hit nation is seeking more weapons from Berlin. 

Scholz 'irritated' by Kyiv's snub to German president
Olaf Scholz and German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier at Bellevue Palace in December 2021. Photo: dpa | Bernd Von Jutrczenka

The Ukrainian presidency has instead said it wants to welcome Scholz to Kyiv, but the chancellor indicated he had no plans to visit anytime soon. 

Asked by RBB public radio when he would follow in the footsteps of other EU leaders and travel to Kyiv, Scholz dodged the question and stressed his “very regular” phone calls with President Volodymyr Zelensky. 

Berlin has reacted with dismay to President Frank-Walter Steinmeier’s revelation on Tuesday that he had offered to visit Ukraine, but Kyiv had told him he was “not wanted” right now. 

The move against Steinmeier – a former foreign minister who recently acknowledged “errors” in a too conciliatory stance toward Moscow in the past – was widely seen as a diplomatic affront in Germany. 

Scholz said he was “irritated, to put it politely”, noting that Steinmeier had strongly condemned Russia’s aggression. “It would have been good to receive him,” he told RBB. 

‘Direct decisions’

Ukrainian presidential advisor Oleksiy Arestovych told German public television on Wednesday it had not been Zelensky’s intention to offend Berlin. 

“I think the main argument was different — our president expects the chancellor, so that he (Scholz) can take direct practical decisions, including weapons deliveries,” he told broadcaster ZDF. 

The German president has a largely ceremonial role while the chancellor heads the government. 

The spat comes as Scholz is facing growing pressure to step up support for Ukraine in the face of the seven-week-old Russian invasion which has cost the lives of thousands of civilians. 

Arestovych said the fate of the strategic port city of Mariupol and the civilian population of eastern Ukraine “depends on the German weapons we could get”, but that have not been promised.  

Time is of the essence because “every minute that a tank doesn’t arrive… it is our children who are dying, being raped, being killed”, Arestovych said. 

The German political class “has seen the terrible images” of the war which he said recalled the destruction of Berlin in 1945. What the Russian army is doing in Ukraine “isn’t any different”. 

Spiral of escalation

Scholz, like Steinmeier a Social Democrat, initially responded to the Russian onslaught by promising a dramatic about-face in German defence and foreign policy including a massive increase in military spending. 

But he has thus far refused, primarily for historical reasons, to send heavy weapons to Ukraine. 

Germany has until now sent defensive arms including anti-tank weapons, missile launchers and surface-to-air missiles in response to the conflict. 

The stance has sharpened tensions within Scholz’s government, with ministers from the co-ruling Green party urging additional weapons deliveries. 

“There is only one person who can point the way and that is Chancellor Olaf Scholz,” said Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, head of the defence committee in the lower house of parliament and a leading deputy from the Free Democrats, the third party in Scholz’s coalition. 

However members of the Social Democrats indicated their opposition to stepping up arms supplies to Ukraine, warning of a spiral of escalation. 

“If we deliver heavy weapons, then we quickly face the question whether German training teams or volunteers from Germany to run the weapons systems are necessary,” MP Joe Weingarten told daily Die Welt. 

SEE ALSO: Pressure grows on Scholz as German delegation visits Ukraine

Member comments

  1. “irritated” is not a good translation of “irritiert”. The German word is much milder, closer to “perplexed”. Of course, it’s clear that Scholz was actually annoyed, but he used a milder euphemism.

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POLITICS

Scholz says Germany to become biggest NATO force in Europe

Germany's investments in defence in the wake of Russia's invasion of Ukraine will transform it into the biggest contributor to NATO in Europe, Chancellor Olaf Scholz said on Tuesday.

Scholz says Germany to become biggest NATO force in Europe

Alongside the United States, Germany is “certainly making the largest contribution” to NATO, Scholz said in an interview with the ARD broadcaster.

Speaking at the close of a summit of leaders from the Group of Seven rich democracies, Scholz said Germany was in the process of creating “the largest conventional army within the NATO framework in Europe”.

Days after Russia invaded Ukraine in February, Scholz announced a 100-billion-euro ($105-billion) fund to beef up Germany’s military defences and offset decades of chronic underfunding.

READ ALSO: Germany’s Bundestag approves €100 billion fund to beef up defences

He also promised to meet NATO’s target of spending two percent of GDP on defence, answering years of criticism from close allies that Berlin was failing to contribute enough to the alliance.

Russia’s invasion had led to a renewed conviction “that we should spend more money on defence”, Scholz said.

“We will spend an average of around 70 to 80 billion euros a year on defence over the next few years,” he said, meaning “Germany is the country that invests the most in this”.

Scholz’s announcement in February was seen as a major policy shift, upending Germany’s traditionally cautious approach to defence as a result of its post-war guilt.

Germany had steadily reduced the size of its army since the end of the Cold War from around 500,000 at the time of reunification in 1990 to just 200,000.

NATO allies are from Tuesday gathering in Madrid for a summit, where the United States is expected to announce new long-term military deployments across Europe.

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