Zelensky Visits Germany, Praising Weapons Pledge and Seeking Jets

President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine met with Germany’s leaders in Berlin on Sunday morning, a day after Germany announced its largest package of military aid yet for Kyiv and as the two nations seek to turn the page on months of rocky relations.

Speaking to journalists side by side at the chancellery on Sunday morning, Mr. Zelensky and Chancellor Olaf Scholz traded remarks of gratitude and praise. But their responses to some questions — namely on fighter jets — reflected that Kyiv is still struggling to gain traction with Berlin and other Western allies on some of its key demands.

Mr. Zelensky was escorted to Berlin by German fighter jets for his first trip to Germany since Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine began more than a year ago. The visit was the latest in a series of recent trips to allied countries by Mr. Zelensky in which he has sought to express thanks, push for faster deliveries of weapons and advance Ukraine’s broader diplomacy as the 15-month war grinds on.

“German air defense systems, artillery, tanks and infantry fighting vehicles are saving Ukrainian lives and bringing us closer to victory,” Mr. Zelensky wrote on Twitter on Sunday. “Germany is a reliable ally!”

In Berlin, the Ukrainian leader met first with President Frank-Walter Steinmeier at Berlin’s Bellevue Palace and was then received with military honors by Mr. Scholz at the chancellery. The grand reception came despite the fact that Mr. Scholz was among the last of European leaders to receive a visit from the wartime president.

Mr. Zelensky and Mr. Scholz are hoping to improve ties after a year marred by diplomatic sniping and wrangling over Berlin’s initially slower pace in delivering weapons to Ukraine. Both Kyiv and Berlin are keenly aware that their relationship will be more important than ever ahead of Ukraine’s looming counteroffensive against Russia, in which an influx of sophisticated Western-supplied weapons is expected to play a key role.

Speaking after one-on-one talks with Mr. Scholz, Mr. Zelensky told journalists that the new German arms package announced the previous day, totaling 2.7 billion euros, or about $2.95 billion, was “very important and strong help.”

But underlining his quest for ever more powerful and sophisticated weapons, Mr. Zelensky noted that Germany was now Ukraine’s second largest backer after the United States. “We are working to bring Germany to first place on that,” he said at a news conference.

When asked at the news conference whether Ukraine had received the necessary weapons to mount an offensive, Mr. Zelensky said “a few more visits and it will be sufficient.”

The Ukrainian government has repeatedly urged its allies to supply fighter jets, and Mr. Zelensky told journalists on Sunday that on his recent visits to European capitals he had pushed to create a “fighter jet coalition” and had asked Berlin to support that effort.

But Mr. Scholz evaded any direct reply to that message, pointing instead to the weapons Germany had already provided and also pledged in the latest package. “That is what we as Germans are focusing on now,” he said. Support for Ukraine will continue “for as long as it takes,” he added, telling journalists that the two countries had “very good relations.”

Mr. Zelensky’s recent travel — his trip to Germany followed a visit to Rome — stands in stark contrast to earlier in the war, when his decision to stay in Kyiv despite the Russian onslaught became a symbol of Ukrainian defiance. It reflects the Ukrainian leader’s efforts to bolster relations with European nations at a time when China has been positioning itself as a potential peacemaker in the conflict. In February, Beijing issued what it described as a 12-point peace plan for Ukraine, though Western officials criticized it as lacking substance.

In April, President Xi Jinping of China had a phone call with Mr. Zelensky, the first since the full scale invasion began. China’s top diplomat, Qin Gang, visited Europe last week, and on Monday a Chinese government envoy will begin a trip that is scheduled to include stops in Ukraine and Russia in an attempt to help negotiate an end to the war.

But Western officials have expressed skepticism over Beijing’s ability to negotiate given its deep ties to Russia, which have spurred concerns in Europe and the United States that China instead might in fact act to help Russia’s war effort.

The trip also comes amid concerns among European officials that American support for Ukraine could wane if a Republican is elected president next year. Some Ukrainian and German officials privately have said that Mr. Zelensky may be hoping to persuade Mr. Scholz to play a more influential role leading European support for the war and in any potential peace negotiations. But the chancellor has proved reluctant to take up a larger role.

The Ukrainian government has said its preconditions for any peace negotiations include a complete Russian withdrawal from all of Ukraine’s territory and an end to hostilities. President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia has shown no signs of willingness to make concessions.

Mr. Scholz voiced support on Sunday for the Ukrainian position — probably an effort to allay previous concerns from Kyiv and other critics that he and French President Emmanuel Macron might try to pressure Ukraine into an agreement.

“Ukraine already rightly and with our full support demands that this cannot mean simply freezing the war and that a dictate peace is formulated from the Russian side,” he said at a news conference. “Russia has to withdraw its troops, without that, it won’t work.”

On Sunday afternoon, Mr. Zelensky and Mr. Scholz plan to travel together to the western German city of Aachen, where Mr. Zelensky is scheduled to receive the prestigious Charlemagne award on behalf of himself and the Ukrainian people. The award is bestowed on people deemed to have done the most to promote European unity.

Previous winners have included Winston Churchill, Pope Francis, Angela Merkel and Bill Clinton. The judges’ decision to award the prize to Mr. Zelensky and the people of Ukraine underscored both how the war has united Europeans and the irony that Ukraine is not a part of the European Union, despite Kyiv’s strong entreaties to join.

Russia has fired missiles at the Ternopil region in western Ukraine, Ukrainian officials said on Sunday, hitting the hometown of Ukraine’s Eurovision group during the song contest and demonstrating Moscow’s ability to launch attacks far from the front lines.

The two overnight strikes involved cruise missiles and destroyed two houses, the regional governor, Volodymyr Trush, said on Sunday on the Telegram messaging app. Other homes, buildings and vehicles were also damaged, he added. While initial reports said two civilians had been injured, by Sunday morning Mr. Trush said that “there were no casualties from this extraordinary event.”

Ukraine’s entry to the Eurovision competition, the pop duo Tvorchi, wrote on its Instagram page that “Ternopil is the name of our hometown, which was bombed by Russia while we sang on the Eurovision stage about our steel hearts, indomitability and will.” Tvorchi finished in sixth place in the competition, which concluded on Saturday night in Liverpool, England.

The attack was deep in western Ukraine, less than 100 miles from Lviv, an area that has largely been spared the brunt of the war. It signaled that even though the Kremlin’s stock of weapons may have been depleted by 15 months of fighting, Russia retains the ability to target almost any part of Ukraine.

Ukraine’s Air Force said in a post on Telegram that air defenses had intercepted 25 attack drones and three cruise missiles overnight, but did not specify how many had managed to get through.

Matthew Mpoke Bigg contributed reporting.

Source link

Related Articles


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Stay Connected

- Advertisement -spot_img

Latest Articles