Germany will support Ukraine as long as needed, Chancellor Olaf Scholz has said, during Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s first visit to capital Berlin since the start of the Russian invasion in February last year.
“I have said it many times, and I repeat it here today: we will support you for as long as it is necessary,” Scholz said during a joint press conference on Sunday, adding that Germany stood with its partners “for Russia to be held to account for its misdeeds”.
The Ukrainian leader said that Kyiv would always be grateful to Berlin for its support during the war, adding that Ukraine’s Western allies could make Russia’s defeat “irreversible” as early as this year.
The German government announced 2.7bn euro ($3bn) of military aid to Ukraine on Saturday, its biggest such package yet since war broke out.
The new military aid package, first reported by German weekly Der Spiegel, includes 30 Leopard 1 A5 tanks, 20 Marder armoured personnel carriers, more than 100 combat vehicles, 18 self-propelled Howitzers, 200 reconnaissance drones, four IRIS-T SLM anti-aircraft systems and other air defence equipment.
In a tweet soon after the meeting Zelenskyy thanked Germany for “the largest military aid” since the invasion. “German air defense systems, artillery, tanks and infantry fighting vehicles are saving Ukrainian lives and bringing us closer to victory,” he said.
Germany, Europe’s largest economy, faced criticism at the start of the war for what some called a hesitant response, but it has become one of Ukraine’s biggest providers of financial and military assistance, crucially giving the green light for the delivery of modern battle tanks in the form of its own Leopard 1 and 2 models, along with sophisticated anti-aircraft systems needed to fend off drone and missile attacks.
I thank Germany for the largest military aid package since the beginning of the full-scale Russian invasion.
German air defense systems, artillery, tanks and infantry fighting vehicles are saving Ukrainian lives and bringing us closer to victory.
Germany is a reliable ally!…
— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) May 14, 2023
Speaking in Berlin, Zelenskyy reassured his Western allies that his country was preparing a counteroffensive designed to liberate areas occupied by Russia, not to attack Russian territory.
There has been speculation that Ukraine might try to capture areas in Russia and use them as bargaining chips in possible peace negotiations to end the war launched by Moscow in February 2022.
Pressed by reporters on the issue, Zelenskyy said: “We don’t attack Russian territory, we liberate our own legitimate territory.”
“We have neither the time nor the strength (to attack Russia),” he said, according to an official interpreter. “And we also don’t have weapons to spare, with which we could do this,” he added.
Zelenskyy last visited Germany for the Munich Security Council in February last year just before the war broke out.
Berlin was constrained in its support for Ukraine at that time both by its energy dependence on Russia and a pacifism rooted in its bloody 20th-century history. But days after the war broke out, Scholz announced a major policy — and mindset — shift that Scholz dubbed a “Zeitenwende” or turn of era.
Earlier in the day Zelenskyy met with President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Germany’s head of state, who was snubbed by Kyiv last year, apparently over his previous close ties to Russia, causing a chill in diplomatic relations between Ukraine and Germany.
Since then, both Steinmeier and Scholz have visited Ukraine, assuring Zelenskyy of their support for his country’s fight against the Russian invasion.
After meeting Scholz and other senior officials at the chancellery, the two leaders are expected to fly to the western city of Aachen for Zelenskyy to receive the International Charlemagne Prize awarded to him and the people of Ukraine.
Organisers say the award recognises that their resistance against Russia’s invasion is a defence “not just of the sovereignty of their country and the life of its citizens, but also of Europe and European values.”
While German leaders have expressed strong backing for Ukraine, German voters are divided on whether the country should provide further weapons, particularly advanced fighter jets of the kind Kyiv is asking its allies for.