Opinion: Olaf Scholz in Kyiv — regaining some confidence | UKTN | 16.06.2022

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It was Chancellor Olaf Scholz himself who set the bar so high for his trip to Kyiv that many feared it was doomed. “I’m not going to join the queue of people who come and go quickly back and forth for a photo shoot. If I go, it will be for concrete things,” he said a while ago. a month.

Scholz did not travel to Kyiv alone, but rather with two other Western European leaders – French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi. The trio represents the three most economically and politically powerful countries in Europe. Once in Kyiv, they were joined by Romanian President Klaus Iohannes, representing Eastern Europe. Although the trip was quick and many photos were taken, it was indeed much more than an “in-and-out” tour.

High expectations

The trip by the three Western European leaders was primarily intended to function as a sign of European solidarity with Ukraine. Yet, as important as the symbolism was, it was also essential that the three actually delivered – Olaf Scholz above all, because all (Ukrainian) eyes were on him. After more than 100 days of war, the German chancellor finally took the night train to Kyiv, leaving for what was probably the most important trip of his political career.

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The two most fundamental expectations of the Ukrainian side: more heavy weapons from the West and a “yes” to Ukraine’s candidate status in the EU. As for weapons, the result was only modestly satisfactory. Scholz promised more heavy weapons but said little about delivery times. It will take time, no matter how much Scholz insisted that Ukrainian soldiers are already being trained in Germany.

Rosalia Romaniec leads UKTN’s Berlin office

But the Chancellor didn’t disappoint when it came to the second point, rather he captured the momentum of the day. As the leader of the most powerful country in the EU and with a unique historical responsibility towards Ukraine, he was crystal clear: “Ukraine is part of the European family”. With this sentence, Scholz assumed the leadership role that a German Chancellor must have in this situation. He couldn’t afford anything less.

The fact that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy called the decision “historic” was a smart way of demonstrating his unity with Europe, despite all the differences that may arise on the long road to membership bid. “I am satisfied,” the Ukrainian president announced to the world.

A part of Europe one day

Ukrainian (and Eastern European) confidence in Germany’s reliability has taken a hit in recent weeks due to Berlin’s political dithering. But on this trip, Scholz was able to shed some of his image as a hesitant and timid leader.

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And for Zelenskyy, there was much more at stake today than the formal statement of a clear path to Ukraine’s EU membership. His country is at war. His compatriots are showing a courage and a will to fight that Europe has not seen since the Second World War. Each new day they are forced to persevere. The prospect of one day being part of Europe helps them in their fight.

When Olaf Scholz says that Ukraine is part of Europe, Ukrainians understand that their fight for freedom has a deeper meaning. Zelenskyy also needed to hear this message, as his country faces difficult months.

Something else was also very useful in Kyiv. “Ukraine must win the war,” French President Macron said. Not only was this a clear message for Ukrainians, but also for Moscow. These words also gave hope and relief to others in Eastern Europe.

Scholz understood what had to be done

Of course, the trip did not meet all of Kyiv’s wishes. Above all, Ukraine will have to be patient when it comes to heavy weapons. But for Zelenskyy, the fundamental message of the day seemed even more important. Before the trip, he said: “What we need from Chancellor Scholz is a guarantee that Germany stands behind Ukraine.” There is no room for compromise when it comes to Germany’s relations with Ukraine and with Russia.

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Scholz got the message, and his support for Ukraine’s path to EU membership means his trip can be considered a success. And that’s no small feat. Scholz and Macron have long been considered the most skeptical in Europe. For many, the Franco-German duo represents a failed Eastern policy and a rapprochement with Moscow. The Minsk agreement brokered by Paris and Berlin is dead and no longer an option for Zelenskyy. The fact that three Western European heavyweights have made their support for Ukraine so clear as part of the European family is an entirely new perspective.

For Olaf Scholz, the trip was also an opportunity to calm criticism of his earlier dithering. But to ensure that the criticism stops more than momentarily, we will now have to stay the course.

This article was translated from German by Jon Shelton

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