Federal President: Steinmeier in Ukraine: "You can rely on us"

He is by no means the first high-ranking politician from Berlin to travel to war-torn Ukraine.

Federal President: Steinmeier in Ukraine: "You can rely on us"

He is by no means the first high-ranking politician from Berlin to travel to war-torn Ukraine. But his visit has a special symbolic power and attention. Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier knew this when he got off the special train that brought him here from Poland on Tuesday morning, while it was still dark, at the Kyiv train station.

"Like many Germans, I look at the people here in Ukraine with admiration. At their courage, at their inflexibility," he says. His message to them is: "You can rely on Germany!"

With his visit, Steinmeier wants to make it clear that this is not a temporary, but a permanent solidarity. And that it applies now, when Russia is launching aerial attacks on Ukraine's energy infrastructure.

It is a journey not without risks that he undertakes on this rainy autumn day. Unlike other visitors, he does not limit himself to visits and talks in the capital Kyiv and its suburbs. After half an hour, the train, with only four wagons, travels further north through brightly colored forests and vast fields past small villages. His first destination is the city of Chernihiv, around 140 kilometers away. From there it's another hour and a half by car to Koryukivka.

Air alert shortly after arrival

In this small town, only about 30 kilometers from the Belarusian border, Steinmeier gets a small impression of everyday wartime life in Ukraine. As soon as he arrived, the sirens wail. air alert. Together with Mayor Ratan Akhmedow and a group of citizens, we go into the air-raid shelter for an hour and a half. There, Steinmeier hears stories from people who had to live in the basement for three weeks, who stood alone in the way of the Russian tanks with their hands raised, or who feared for their men fighting the Russians. "My husband is at the front, at the hottest front," a young woman tells him.

"Having the conversation there was particularly impressive. And I don't think it was just me," says Steinmeier afterwards. He's been here in Koryukivka before. It's only been a year. At that time there was still peace. At that time he flew there from Kyiv by helicopter. Now the convoy is driving past bombed-out bridges and houses, and now and then a burned-out car is parked on the side of the road.

Steinmeier does not come empty-handed

A year ago, Mayor Achmedow expressed the desire for a town twinning with a German municipality. Steinmeier is now bringing an offer from Waldkirch im Breisgau.

And he has something else with him: a kind of winter aid package with a power generator, a mobile plant for repairing heating and water systems and a machine for making wood chips for heating. All things that are intended to help people get through the winter here safely. Because after the latest attacks by the Russian army, the coming months could be icy and dark for many Ukrainians.

To prevent this, this winter package should not remain the only one. The Federal President and his Ukrainian counterpart Volodymyr Zelenskyj will later make a joint appeal to German cities and municipalities to establish new partnerships with Ukrainian municipalities in the short term. For aid like the delivery Steinmeier brought, there are even grants from the budget of the Ministry for Development Assistance.

Unloading in April unprecedented political affront

Steinmeier and Selenskyj - how would they face each other in the evening? After all, they were at the center of the considerable upheaval between Berlin and Kyiv in the spring. The German actually wanted to visit the Ukrainian in mid-April - together with the presidents of Poland, Latvia, Lithuania and Estonia. The initiative for this came from Poland's President Andrzej Duda. Immediately before the start, Steinmeier received a refusal from Kyiv.

The discharge was seen in Berlin as an unprecedented diplomatic and political affront. Selenskyj's attempt to explain that he and his office had not received any official request for a visit from the Federal President's Office was only acknowledged with a shake of the head. The situation only eased again after a telephone conversation between the two presidents in early May. "Irritations from the past have been cleared up," it said afterwards from the Office of the Federal President.

In any case, there is no trace of this rift in the spring in the statements made after the talks between the two presidents. Selenskyj thanks for the German aid, which contributes to peace in his country, calling it "great and historically important". At the same time, he makes it clear that his country wants more weapons from Germany. Steinmeier assures them that they will be delivered promptly. He certifies his host: "You are leading your country through this historical period in an impressive way. I have great respect for it."

More reasons to relax

Steinmeier is now coming to Kyiv in a much more comfortable position than he would have been in April. At the time, traffic light factions and the CDU/CSU opposition in the Bundestag were still arguing about a joint resolution that would also demand the delivery of heavy weapons to Ukraine.

Today the delivery list is long. It ranges from 10 Panzerhaubitzen 2000 over 30 Gepard anti-aircraft tanks to three Mars II multiple rocket launchers and an Iris-T air defense system, to name just the largest weapon systems. More self-propelled howitzers, Mars II and Iris T systems and other weapons are to follow.

The fact that Steinmeier, after initial hesitation, admitted misjudgments in the assessment of Kremlin chief Vladimir Putin and his policies was also positively registered in Kyiv.

And this is also helping to ease the tension: the Ukrainian ambassador Andriy Melnyk, who was seen by many in political Berlin as a rioter, was ordered back to Kyiv. Steinmeier had been one of his popular Twitter targets. A few hours before the Federal President left for Ukraine, he received the credentials of his successor Oleksii Makeiev at Bellevue Palace on Monday. Both know each other from before. Steinmeier is said to be very taken with Makeiev. This also points to quieter times in the relationship between Kyiv and Berlin.

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