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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
By Femke Colborne