When Olaf Scholz stepped off his overnight train at Kyiv Central Station on Thursday morning in jeans and a short-sleeved black shirt, a goal of his journey had already been achieved. According to observers, the very fact that the trip took place was a success. While other leaders were quick to visit Ukraine after its invasion by Russia, Scholz took his time – and was roundly criticized for it at home and abroad.
The reason? Discord over the April snub in Kyiv by German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who was deemed undesirable in the Ukrainian capital. With Scholz’s visit, it seems that the wrinkles in German-Ukrainian relations have been at least partially smoothed out. Scholz traveled with French President Emmanuel Macron and Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, while Romanian President Klaus Iohannes met them upon arrival.
No keys yet for the new German tanks
The controversial subject of German heavy arms deliveries remains. Those who expected Scholz to pull a bunch of keys for the new German tanks out of his pocket to appease the critics were disappointed. During a collective press conference, the Chancellor made no promise to deliver new weapons despite the fact that the needs are increasing every day due to heavy fighting in the eastern region of Donbass. Instead, it repeated its earlier promises to deliver howitzers, Gepard tanks (Cheetah) and multiple rocket launchers (MRL). He didn’t say when. French President Macron promised to deliver new howitzers but nothing more.
Whether in the Kyiv suburb of Irpin, which was heavily shelled and almost entirely occupied by Russian March forces; or in the heavily militarized and sandy streets of the capital, it was impossible for the Chancellor not to see or hear the war in Ukraine. The sun may have been shining and Kyiv’s cafes were busy, but air raid sirens reminded European guests of the threat posed by Russian rockets almost as soon as they stepped off the train. When sirens sounded as politicians took to their podiums in a meadow near the Mariinsky Palace, President Zelensky told those gathered that at least 15 rockets were hitting Ukraine every day.
Political support for EU candidacy
Despite all this, the trip was nevertheless a success. For Scholz offered something that Kyiv desperately needs more than arms these days – political solidarity from major EU countries in support of Ukraine’s bid for EU membership. Members meeting for an EU summit in the coming weeks must decide whether Ukraine will receive that coveted candidacy status.
In Kyiv, Scholz offered his first public statement of support for Ukraine’s candidacy. Other leaders echoed his sentiment. The four guests expressed their support for Ukraine’s EU candidacy, calling it a “historic moment”. Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba told UKTN that from Kyiv’s perspective, this announcement was the most important thing to come out of the trip. He said other countries that previously expressed skepticism could no longer “hide behind Germany”.
‘Wake up already!’
Scholz stayed true to form in Kyiv, delivering a restrained and objective performance. In a particular gesture of solidarity, however, the Chancellor ended his remarks to the press with the words “Slava Ukraini!” (“Glory to Ukraine”). This is a phrase spoken by Ukrainian patriots and the official salute of the armed forces.
Ukrainians like Olexiy – alias – fight the Russian invaders every day under this slogan. Olexiy, who was fighting on the Eastern Front a few days ago, is in Kyiv for a short visit. When asked if he is convinced by Scholz and Macron, the soldier replies: “We are grateful for everything we receive. For every howitzer, for every machine gun.” Yet he says it takes a lot more to stop Russia. His message to Western leaders: “Wake up already! Give us all you can. This is your war too, because your countries are next.” But, he adds, he’s not too sure that Scholz and the others really understand that.
This text was translated from German by Jon Shelton