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Merkel backs Ukraine's Zelenskiy over Russia

June 18, 2019

The Ukrainian president has vowed to push his country towards EU and NATO accession. German Chancellor Angela Merkel has backed his calls for maintaining sanctions against Russia.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel stands next to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy
Image: Reuters/H. Hanschke

German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday met with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy for his first official visit to Germany.

Zelenskiy, an actor and political novice who won the presidency in April, has given European Union leaders fresh hope of ending the conflict in eastern Ukraine.

Ahead of the visit, French President Emmanuel Macron said peace talks aimed at providing a political solution to the conflict could resume under Zelenskiy.

Read more: Ukraine: Zelenskiy's Servant of the People party vows 'radical changes'

Tough on Russia

At a joint press conference, Merkel backed Zelenskiy's remarks that sanctions against Russia — imposed for its illegal annexation of the Crimean Peninsula and its role in an insurgency in eastern Ukraine — must remain in place.

"As long as there is no progress on this front, the sanctions cannot be lifted, and the sanctions related to Crimea can only be lifted if Crimea returns to Ukraine," Merkel said.

Before the visit, Zelenskiy had told German newspaper Bild that sanctions "are the only means to liberate the occupied region and restore our territorial integrity and sovereignty and return them to our people."

"If this does not work, the mechanism must be expanded," Zelenskiy added.

Read more: Ukraine furious after Russia speeds up passport process in eastern Ukraine

Towards European integration

The Ukrainian president also told Bild that he plans to push Ukraine towards EU and NATO accession, saying his country "is already part of the European family."

"Ukraine would like European integration, which is the greatest wish of our people," he said. "But we do realize that we have to deliver convincing results in order to join the common economic, legal, customs and digital area of the EU."

During the welcome ceremony, Merkel was seen visibly trembling. When asked about it later, she said: "I've drunk at least three glasses of water, which I apparently needed, and now I'm doing very well."

"She was totally safe," Zelenskiy added.

Read more: Ukraine's new president commits to EU, NATO membership

Merkel visibly shaking during ceremony

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ls/aw (dpa, Reuters)

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