German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier (left) bids farewell to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky (right), as he leaves the Bellevue Palace on May 14, 2023, in Berlin.
Pool | Getty Images News | Getty Images
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy thanked Germany for its support when he met with President Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Sunday in his first visit to the country since the Russian invasion.
Zelenskyy arrived in Berlin from Rome, where he met separately on Saturday with Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and Pope Francis. The pope has indicated that the Vatican will help repatriate Ukrainian children taken by the Russians.
He flew in a German government plane escorted into German airspace by fighter jets of the Luftwaffe air force, which arrived in the middle of the night.
“In the most challenging period in Ukraine’s modern history, Germany is proud to be our true friend and reliable ally,” Zelenskyy wrote in the guest book of the German presidency. “Together we will win and restore peace to Europe.”
Zelenskyy is expected to meet later with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz and his security cabinet before heading to Aachen in western Germany to receive the prestigious Charlemagne prize in honor of services to Europe.
Germany, which is Europe’s largest economy, faced criticism at the beginning of the war for what some called a hesitant response, but it has been one of the biggest providers of financial and military aid to Ukraine.
The government announced 2.7 billion euros ($3 billion) in military aid to Ukraine on Saturday, its largest package since Russia’s invasion in February last year, and promised additional support for Kyiv as needed.
Zelenskyy hailed it as a “powerful package” in a tweet, saying he intended to discuss arms supplies as well as air defense, reconstruction, Ukraine’s candidacy for European Union membership and security with German officials.
Zelenskyy last visited Germany for the Munich Security Council in February last year before the outbreak of war.
Germany was constrained in its support for Ukraine at the time both by its energy dependence on Russia and a pacifism rooted in the bloody history of the 20th century.
This required a major shift in policy and a shift in thinking that Scholz called the “Zeitenwende” or turn of era, in a landmark speech just days after the outbreak of war.