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German politician 'not wanted' in Ukraine after war remarks

Louis Oelofse
August 28, 2022

The state premier of Saxony, Michael Kretschmer, drew the ire of Ukraine's ambassador in Germany over a suggestion that the Russian war be "frozen" to give diplomacy a chance.

The Premier of Germany's Saxony state, Michael Kretschmer
Kretschmer's own party leader, Friedrich Merz, also rushed to distance himself from some of the commentsImage: Robert Michael/dpa-Zentralbild/dpa/picture alliance

Kyiv's ambassador in Berlin, Andriy Melnyk, rescinded an invitation to the Premier of Germany's Saxony state, Michael Kretschmer to visit Ukraine.

"I invited you to Ukraine. This invitation has been canceled. You are not wanted. Period," the diplomat wrote on Twitter on Sunday.

He was upset over Kretschmer's suggestion that the war in Ukraine be "frozen" to give diplomacy a chance.

The German Christian Democrat politician made the remark during an appearance on the "Markus Lanz" television chat show.

"With your absurd rheoric about the freezing of the Russian war you are playing into Putin's hands and fueling Russian aggression," Melnyk said. 

What exactly Kretschmer said

During the TV show Kretschmer argued that the debate on the war in Ukraine had become too one-dimensional and that more European and global efforts should be made to set up peace talks, even if Russia currently claims not to be interested. 

"I think a big problem in the current debate is that we have a narrowing of opinion to one point of view, with one line of argumentation, and I think we need much more of a broad debate, a mix of arguments, for and against. Particularly with such vast questions of war and peace, it's extremely important."

He said he considered negotiations the only way to end the war.

"There's a terrible war criminal sitting in Moscow, that's correct. He currently does not want to negotiate, that's correct too. And that means that this conflict can only be won on the battlefield, no, that's not correct." 

Kretschmer added it was important to "bring the aggressor to a position where it also takes part," while standing by Ukraine. 

"We must try to assure that a frozen conflict can be created out of this hot war, a situation we have in many other parts of the world, so that the possibility of negotiations in the coming years or even decades can be enabled."

Although Lanz is nominally a panel show, the episode from August 24 changed into more of a group interrogation of Kretschmer conducted by the host and the other guests.

Kretschmer also voiced support for German weapons deliveries to Ukraine, and for sanctions against Russia. But he also argued that they would not be sustainable long term, pointing both to energy-related issues at home and broader problems like rising food prices and their impact around the world. Therefore, he said, it was crucial to continue pressing for a negotiated solution, and "the sooner, the better." 

More friction between Germany and Ukraine 

Six months after Russia's invasion of Ukraine, tensions between German politicians and their counterparts in Kyiv, or outgoing Ambassador Melnyk, have often surfaced. 

What's unusual in this instance is that it's a Christian Democrat politician in the firing line, whereas for the most part Ukraine has been upset by Social Democrats and their past or their comments. 

The most famous case is former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder, whose close ties to Russian energy companies and President Vladimir Putin have become internationally famous. Schröder has met with Putin twice since the war broke out and has issued a series of defiant interviews defending himself and his conduct. He also filed a lawsuit against the German parliament, the Bundestag, for taking away some of his state privileges in May.

Previous Chancellor Angela Merkel, a Christian Democrat, has also faced criticism from Kyiv, and has also stood up for her past policies. However, even her eastern European critics would be more likely to accuse her of strategic errors during her tenure, not of seeking lucrative retirement jobs with Russian state-owned energy giants.

How the war in Ukraine has changed Germany

In April, Ukraine told German President Frank Walter-Steinmeier, an SPD politician and former foreign minister, that he was not welcome on a visit to Kyiv. President Volodymyr Zelenskyy's government called on Berlin to send Chancellor Olaf Scholz instead.

This led to Germany's government initially saying that if the head of state was not welcome, then no government representative could visit either. Melynk chimed into the debate at this point, suggesting that Scholz was simply offended.

Eventually the tensions cooled and first Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock visited Kyiv in May, followed by Scholz in June. In July, however, it emerged that Steinmeier had demanded an explanation for the snub. Whether he will visit Kyiv remains unclear, his office recently said it was planning a visit that it hoped would come "soon."

Kyiv has since said that Melnyk would  leave his post in Berlin at the end of September.

Merz calls Kretschmer's position 'a Saxony perspective' 

Oppostion CDU leader Friedrich Merz has been trying to capitalize on these tensions with the SPD domestically, portraying his party as more palatable to Kyiv and tougher on Russia. Following Kretschmer's comments on the conflict, he rushed to distance the party from them. 

"In Michael Kretschmer, we have a state premier in our ranks who sees this issue differently, from a Saxony perspective, but that is also not the opinion of the CDU/CSU," the leader of the Christian Democratic Union, Friedrich Merz said.

Kretschmer's position atop a fragile coalition in the economically downtrodden eastern state of Saxony is significant. 

Opinion polls repeatedly show considerably less hostile attitudes towards Russia in German states that were part of the former Communist East Germany. 

The politics of these states are also labile. The largest opposition party in Saxony's state parliament is the populist Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), which is also calling for a softer line on Russia. While the AfD only commands around 10% public support nationwide, it won 27.5% — its best result in any German state ever — in Saxony in 2019. 

The second largest opposition party is the socialist Left Party, which can trace its roots in part back to East Germany's ruling party. 

War in Ukraine: Germany's watershed moment

Baerbock assures Ukraine of Germany's support

Germany's Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock however reassured Ukraine of Germany's support in the war against Russia for years to come.

"Unfortunately, we have to assume that Ukraine will still need new heavy weapons from its friends next summer," Baerbock told German Sunday newspaper Bild am Sonntag.

"Ukraine is also defending our freedom, our peace. And we support them financially and militarily — and for as long as it is necessary. Period," Baerbock said.

Edited by: Mark Hallam

While you're here: Every Tuesday, DW editors round up what is happening in German politics and society. You can sign up here for the weekly email newsletter Berlin Briefing.

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