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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Scholz urges Putin to withdraw troops for ‘diplomatic’ end to war

German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Friday pressed Russia's President Vladimir Putin to seek a diplomatic solution to end his war in Ukraine, including troop withdrawals, Berlin said following a call between the two.

Scholz urges Putin to withdraw troops for 'diplomatic' end to war

“The chancellor urged the Russian president to come as quickly as possible to a diplomatic solution including the withdrawal of Russian troops,” according to the German leader’s spokesman Steffen Hebestreit.

During the one-hour call, Scholz “condemned in particular the Russian airstrikes against civilian infrastructure in Ukraine and stressed Germany’s determination to support Ukraine in ensuring the defence capability against Russian aggression”.

On Russia’s end, Vladimir Putin told Scholz that Moscow’s attacks on Ukraine’s infrastructure were “inevitable” and accused the West of pursuing “destructive” policies. 

“It was noted that the Russian Armed Forces had long refrained from precision missile strikes against certain targets on the territory of Ukraine,” the Kremlin said in a statement following the discussion. 

The leaders also discussed the issue of global food security, which is under pressure because of the war.

They also agreed to “remain in contact”, said Hebestreit.

Scholz and Putin have been in regular phone contact through the war.

The previous call between them took place in September and lasted 90 minutes, with Scholz then also urging Putin to “come to a diplomatic solution as possible, based on a ceasefire”.

‘Return to the pre-war peace order’

Despite his firm line on the war in Ukraine, the Chancellor drew sideways glances this week after telling the Berlin Security Conference there was a “willingness” to solve common security issues with Russia. 

“We can come back to a peace order that worked and make it safe again if there is a willingness in Russia to go back to this peace order,” Scholz said, according to reports by Times correspondent Oliver Moody. 

Scholz had prefaced his comments with a reference to Russia’s “imperialist” tendencies, which he said reflected the approach of the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries, “where a stronger country just thinks it can take the territory of a neighbour, understanding neighbours as just hinterland, and some place they can give rules to be followed.”

“That can never be accepted,” he added. 

He also blamed Russia for destroying the European peace order that countries had worked on “for decades”. 

Nevertheless, commentators accused the SPD politician of stubbornly sticking to Germany’s historical appeasement of Russia rather than recognising the realities of the present day. 

On Wednesday, German MPs also passed a motion to recognise the starvation of millions of Ukrainians in the 1930s under Russian dictator Joseph Stalin as ‘genocide’. 

Parliamentarians described the move as a “warning” to Russia as Ukraine faces a potential hunger crisis this winter due to Moscow’s invasion.

READ ALSO: Germany recognises Stalin famine in Ukraine as ‘genocide’