German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier gestures at a news conference during his meeting with Polish President Andrzej Duda in Warsaw, Poland, Tuesday, April 12, 2022. The German government signaled irritation Wednesday, April 13, 2022 at a diplomatic snub by Ukraine for the German president, but otherwise sought to sidestep tensions that have flared at a delicate moment in German policymaking on the war. Steinmeier, the largely ceremonial head of state, hoped to travel to Ukraine with his Polish and Baltic counterparts but said Tuesday that his presence “apparently … wasn’t wanted in Kyiv.” (AP Photo/Czarek Sokolowski, File)
BERLIN (AP) — German Chancellor Olaf Scholz on Wednesday criticized a diplomatic snub by Ukraine for his country’s president and defended Berlin’s record on delivering weapons to Kyiv amid tensions that have flared at a delicate moment in German policymaking on the war.
President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Germany’s largely ceremonial head of state, had hoped to travel to Ukraine on Wednesday with his Polish and Baltic counterparts. But he said Tuesday that his presence “apparently … wasn’t wanted in Kyiv.” The German newspaper Bild quoted an unidentified Ukrainian diplomat as saying that Steinmeier was not welcome at the moment, pointing to his close relations with Russia in the past.
Ukraine’s ambassador to Germany later said the government would be glad to welcome Scholz — who, unlike Steinmeier, sets government policy. But the snub to Steinmeier may make that more difficult.
“The president would have liked to go to Ukraine,” Scholz told rbb24 Inforadio, noting that Steinmeier is Germany’s head of state and was recently reelected with broad support. “So it would have been good to receive him.”
“It is, in any case, somewhat irritating, to put it politely,” Scholz added, noting that Steinmeier has strongly criticized Russia’s war and called on Russian President Vladimir Putin to withdraw his troops from Ukraine.
The flap comes amid a discussion within Scholz’s governing coalition about whether Germany should authorize sending heavy weapons such as tanks to Ukraine as that nation prepares to face a stepped-up Russian offensive in the east. Germany broke with tradition after Russia’s invasion to supply arms to Ukraine but has faced criticism from Kyiv for perceived hesitancy and slowness in providing material.
A Ukrainian presidential advisor, Oleksiy Arestovych, told Germany’s ARD television that he didn’t know the reasons for the decision to reject a Steinmeier visit but also signaled that Kyiv would like to see Scholz so that “practical decisions” could be made on matters such as weapons.
A senior lawmaker with one of Germany’s three governing parties, Wolfgang Kubicki, said he didn’t think Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was “well advised” to reject a visit by Steinmeier.
“I cannot imagine that the chancellor … will travel to a country that designates our country’s head of state as an unwanted person,” he told the German news agency dpa. Another governing party lawmaker, Juergen Trittin, told the RND newspaper group that the move was “a big propaganda success for Vladimir Putin.”
Steinmeier, who became president in 2017, served twice as ex-Chancellor Angela Merkel’s foreign minister and before that as ex-Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s chief of staff. During that time, Germany pursued a dialogue with Putin and cultivated close energy ties.
Last week, Steinmeier admitted mistakes in Germany’s policies toward Russia, saying that “we failed on many points.”
Asked when would go to Ukraine, Scholz said only that he had visited Kyiv shortly before the war and regularly speaks to Zelenskyy.
Scholz said “the weapons we are delivering have made a very substantial contribution” to Ukraine foiling Russia’s plans for a quick conquest. He was tight-lipped on the possibilities of a bigger German contribution, but insisted that “we are delivering, we have delivered and we will deliver.”
On Monday, Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock of the Green party said “Ukraine needs further military material, above all heavy weapons, and now is not the time for excuses — now is the time for creativity and pragmatism.”
The message appeared directed at more hesitant German politicians, particularly among Scholz’s Social Democrats.
Scholz said “we are delivering the weapons that all the others are also delivering.” He also said Germany won’t make unilateral decisions and stressed the need to prevent NATO countries from becoming a party to the war.
Germany, which has Europe’s biggest economy, also has faced criticism for opposing a quick halt to deliveries of natural gas from Russia, which accounts for about 40% of its gas supplies.