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Pressure mounts in Berlin over Zelenski's rejection of German president's visit

Steinmeier's implications for Nord Stream are leading to criticism that he is "responsible" for the current dependence on Russia
El presidente alemán Frank-Walter Steinmeier AP/MICHAEL SOHN

AP/MICHAEL SOHN  -   German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier

The invasion of Ukraine has opened up a diplomatic game across Europe from which not all countries emerge as winners, and Germany aims to be one of them. Its president, Frank Walter Steinmeier, has admitted that he had offered to visit Ukraine with other EU leaders, but Zelenski turned down his proposal, warning that it was not a good time for such a visit. "I was prepared to do this, but apparently, and I have to take note, this was not what Kiev wanted," the German president said.

Steinmeier had been invited by his Polish counterpart, Andrzej Duda, to make this trip to Kiev together with the heads of state of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia, with the aim of "sending and establishing there a strong signal of joint European solidarity with Ukraine", just as other leaders have done in recent days, such as the British Boris Johnson, or the official visit of Ursula von der Leyen and Josep Borrell. However, this rejection by Kiev has made it impossible for the German president to join these visits in support of Ukraine. The reason for Kiev is clear: links to the Nord Stream pipeline.

El primer ministro británico Boris Johnson (izquierda) y al presidente ucraniano Volodymyr Zelensky (derecha) caminando en el centro de Kiev, el 9 de abril de 2022 AFP PHOTO / the Ukrainian Presidential Press Service
AFP PHOTO / the Ukrainian Presidential Press Service - British Prime Minister Boris Johnson (left) and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (right) walking in the centre of Kiev on 9 April 2022.

The current German president was a minister during Schröder's chancellorship and foreign minister under Merkel, years in which the common project between Berlin and Moscow that would seal the Nord Stream pipeline agreement was developed, a project that is out of place in the current diplomatic scenario against Russia since its troops invaded Ukraine. That is why immediately after the invasion, Social Democrat Chancellor Olaf Scholz suspended the license for the second pipeline, Nord Stream 2. 

Zelenski's rejection of the German president's visit adds to the ongoing political and partly media campaign to blame former chancellor Angela Merkel and Steinmeier for the current energy dependence on Russia. Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock herself pointed out that they knew the danger of this dependence, especially since the Crimean crisis in 2014, and are now paying the consequences. A similar argument was made by the Greens' Minister for Economics and Climate, Robert Habeck, who criticised these decisions. In the face of these accusations, Steinmeier acknowledged that he had made mistakes in the past. "I held on to Nord Stream 2, it was clearly a mistake," he said.

El canciller alemán, Olaf Scholz REUTERS/HANNIBAL HANSCHKE
REUTERS/HANNIBAL HANSCHKE - German Chancellor Olaf Scholz

However, it is Germany's heavy energy dependence on Moscow that has really shaped the country's policies. So much so that the Ukrainian president, in his speech to the Bundestag, reproached Germany for prioritising the economy and the supply of Russian gas over the defence of values such as freedom and independence.

Meanwhile, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz continues to be criticised for his failure to visit Kiev and his hesitation to provide more heavy weapons to help Ukraine resist Russia's invasion, despite the delivery of anti-tank weapons, missile launchers and surface-to-air missiles. All in all, Germany succumbs to external and internal criticism over accusations of having an 'insecure government', and accusing Olaf Scholz of not knowing how to handle the situation.