HomeEuropeWeeks after snub, German president still waiting for call with Zelenskyy

Weeks after snub, German president still waiting for call with Zelenskyy

BERLIN — German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has had no contact with his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskyy since being declared unwelcome in Kyiv three weeks ago, with a German request for a phone call going unanswered since mid-April, officials in Berlin said.

Ukraine’s government embarrassed Berlin last month when it declared that Steinmeier, who had intended to visit Zelenskyy along with the presidents of Poland and the three Baltic states, was not welcome in Kyiv — a humiliation for the German head of state that triggered an immediate backlash in Germany.

The spat intensified Monday when German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said during a TV interview that the Steinmeier snub “stands in the way” of him traveling to Kyiv, which has been a repeated wish from the Ukraine side. Scholz indicated that Steinmeier — who officially holds the highest office in Germany, even though his role is largely ceremonial — must first be able to meet Zelenskyy before he can go.

Against this backdrop, officials in Berlin told POLITICO that a request from Steinmeier to speak with Zelenskyy via phone has been “pending” for more than three weeks. The officials said Steinmeier’s office initially tried to arrange such a phone call ahead of the planned visit to Ukraine on April 13 and that repeated attempts around that time had been in vain.

The officials said the phone call request “is still outstanding” and has so far been left unanswered by Zelenskyy’s office. However, the officials added that “the position of the Federal President is that it is not about him but about Ukraine — the point is that everything that helps Ukraine must be done,” and that the question of whether or when Steinmeier could go to Ukraine was secondary.

The standoff has become a microcosm of the tense relationship between Germany and Ukraine since Russia invaded its neighbor earlier this year. Ukrainian officials have regularly and publicly chided the German government for moving too slowly on issues like military equipment shipments and an embargo on Russian oil.

Steinmeier will be in Eastern Europe on Wednesday, traveling to Romania to meet his counterpart Klaus Iohannis “for political talks” and to also “get a picture of the situation of refugees from Ukraine” in the neighboring country, according to his office.

While the trip may have offered an opportunity for Steinmeier to continue from Bucharest to Kyiv via train, the officials in Berlin said Steinmeier and Zelenskyy should first speak via phone before an eventual visit could be planned.

Steinmeier is a controversial figure in Ukraine because he is seen as a symbol of Germany’s soft line on Moscow before Russia’s invasion of the country. Early last month, the president admitted it was a mistake to cling to the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project between Russia and Germany for so long.  

Asked about the lack of communication between Zelenskyy and Steinmeier, a Ukrainian official told POLITICO he was only aware of an unsuccessful German attempt to arrange a phone call around the time of the declined visit in mid-April, stressing “there is nothing standing in the way of a call” between both presidents.

The Ukrainian official added that it was not true Steinmeier is “persona non grata” in Kyiv, but that Scholz should visit the Ukrainian capital first.

Earlier on Tuesday, Kyiv’s ambassador to Berlin, Andrij Melnyk, hit back at Scholz’s argument that the Steinmeier snub was blocking his own trip.

“This is about the most brutal war of extermination since the Nazi invasion of Ukraine, it is not a kindergarten,” Melnyk said, according to German press agency DPA.

While neither Scholz nor Steinmeier, who come both from the Social Democratic Party, have visited Kyiv so far, Friedrich Merz, the leader of the main opposition Christian Democratic Union, landed a coup on Tuesday by traveling to Kyiv by train and meeting Zelenskyy.

Merz told reporters in Kyiv that he and Zelenskyy “had a very detailed and very long conversation, well over an hour,” and that he would “inform the chancellor in detail about this conversation after my return.”



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