May 6, 2022 - World

Zelensky asks Germany's Scholz to visit Kyiv on Russia's May 9 holiday

Olaf Scholz and Volodymyr Zelensky
German Chancellor Olaf Scholz (left) and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky arriving for a joint press conference in Kyiv on Feb. 14. Photo: Sergei Supinsky. Photo: Sergei Supinsky/AFP via Getty Images

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said Friday that German Chancellor Olaf Scholz should visit Kyiv on May 9 — the date of Russia's highly symbolic Victory Day holiday — as a show of solidarity with Ukraine.

Why it matters: Tensions between Ukraine and Europe's most powerful country are beginning to ease after a weeks-long diplomatic standoff, which was triggered by Zelensky's refusal to host German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier in Kyiv over his past support for rapprochement with Russia.

  • Scholz has declined to visit Kyiv since the war broke out, in part because of the snub. He has long faced criticism from Ukraine over his cautious approach to providing military aid and weaning Germany off Russian energy.
  • Zelensky invited Scholz and Steinmeier to Kyiv in a phone call with the Germany chancellor on Thursday, marking the first time the two leaders had spoken in weeks.

The big picture: Germany is Europe's largest provider of humanitarian and financial assistance to Ukraine, but for years had sought to maintain economic ties with Russia even as Vladimir Putin ramped up his aggression toward Ukraine.

  • Scholz ended decades of restrictive German arms export policy to provide military aid to Ukraine days after Russia's invasion began but has since been criticized for acting too slowly on Ukraine's requests and taking great pains to avoid provoking Moscow.
  • Time and again, however, Scholz has reversed his positions after immense public pressure to do more to support Ukraine.

State of play: Germany announced Friday that it would send seven howitzers to Ukraine after weeks of debate over whether providing artillery systems would be a step too far.

Between the lines: Russia's Victory Day on Monday commemorates the Soviet Union's defeat of Nazi Germany in 1945.

  • Some experts believe Putin will use the symbolic anniversary, which traditionally features a military parade in Moscow, as an opportunity to officially declare war on Ukraine and mobilize Russia's reservists.
  • Scholz and French President Emmanuel Macron are two of a dwindling number of European leaders who have yet to visit Kyiv. A visit by Scholz on Victory Day would be a profound show of solidarity in a conflict that has damaged his and Germany's reputation in Ukraine.
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