Germany will support Ukraine as long as it takes, Chancellor Olaf Scholz said during Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s first visit to the capital Berlin since the Russian invasion began in February last year.
“I have said it many times, and I repeat it here today: we will support you as long as it takes,” Scholz said at a joint press conference on Sunday, adding that Germany stood by its partners “that Russia should be held accountable for its misdeeds “.
The Ukrainian leader said Kiev 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 on Saturday announced 2.7 billion euros ($3 billion) in military aid to Ukraine, the largest such package to date since the outbreak of war.
The new military aid package, first reported by the German weekly magazine Der Spiegel, includes 30 Leopard 1 A5 tanks, 20 Marder armored cars, more than 100 combat vehicles, 18 self-propelled howitzers, 200 reconnaissance drones, four IRIS-T SLM anti-aircraft systems and other air defense equipment.
In a tweet shortly after the meeting, Zelenskyy thanked Germany for “the biggest military aid” since the invasion. “German air defense systems, artillery, tanks and infantry fighting vehicles save Ukrainian lives and bring us closer to victory,” he said.
Germany, Europe’s largest economy, was criticized at the start of the war for what some called a hesitant response, but it has become one of Ukraine’s largest providers of financial and military aid, crucially giving the green light to the delivery of modern main battle tanks in the form of its own Leopard 1 and 2 models, along with advanced anti-aircraft systems needed to repel drone and missile attacks.
I thank Germany for the largest military aid package since the beginning of the large-scale Russian invasion.
German air defense systems, artillery, tanks and infantry fighting vehicles save Ukrainian lives and bring us closer to victory.
Germany is a reliable ally!…
— Володимир Зеленський (@ZelenskyyUa) May 14, 2023
Speaking in Berlin, Zelensky assured his Western allies that his country was preparing a counter-offensive to liberate Russian-held territories, not attack Russian territory.
There has been speculation that Ukraine could try to seize territories in Russia and use them as bargaining chips in potential peace talks to end the war Moscow launched in February 2022.
Pressed by reporters on the issue, Zelenskyy said: “We are not attacking Russian territory, we are liberating our own legitimate territory.”
“We have neither the time nor the strength (to attack Russia),” he said, according to an official interpreter. “And we don’t have any weapons left with which we could do this,” he added.
Zelenskyy last visited Germany before the Munich Security Council in February last year, just before war broke out.
Berlin was limited in its support for Ukraine at the time, both by its energy dependence on Russia and by a pacifism rooted in its bloody 20th-century history. But days after the outbreak of war, Scholz announced a major change in policy and mindset that Scholz called a “Zeitenwende” or change of era.
Earlier in the day, Zelensky met with President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Germany’s head of state, who was rejected by Kiev last year, apparently because of his previous close ties with Russia, which cooled diplomatic relations between Ukraine and Germany.
Since then, both Steinmeier and Scholz have visited Ukraine to reassure Zelenskyy of their support for his country’s struggle against the Russian invasion.
After meeting with Scholz and other high-ranking officials at the chancery, the two leaders are expected to fly to the western city of Aachen for Zelenskyy to receive the International Charlemagne Prize which is due to him and the people of Ukraine promised.
The organizers say the prize recognizes that their resistance to the Russian invasion is a defense “not only of their country’s sovereignty and the lives of its citizens, but also of Europe and European values.”
While German leaders have spoken out strongly in support of Ukraine, German voters are divided over whether the country should provide more weapons, especially advanced fighter jets of the kind Kiev is asking its allies for.