War in Ukraine: Should German Politicians Travel to a War Zone?

Updated on 5/6/2022 at 5:10 PM

  • More and more German politicians are announcing their visit to Kyiv.
  • The purpose of these trips is disputed. CDU politician Rodrich Keswetter considers them an important sign of solidarity.
  • It shouldn’t just be media attention, says Kyiv political scientist Vyacheslav Lykachev.

You can find more news about the war in Ukraine here

Friedrich Merz was there, Gregor Geese is there now, Barbel Bass and Annalena Barbock want to go there soon: the list of German politicians going to Ukraine is getting longer. It gets even longer when you add prominent politicians from abroad: EU leaders have visited Kyiv, as have UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

These trips are controversial. First, it is taking place with a certain degree of risk: in the past few days, the Russian military has increasingly targeted the country’s railway infrastructure. Prominent politicians also travel by train to Lviv or Kyiv. Secondly, what does Ukraine gain from the visit of foreign guests to the ruins of Erbin or Bucha? Is it reasonable for politicians to travel to war zones?

Rodrich Kezeuter, CDU politician: ‘It’s about showing solidarity’

Roderich Kiesewetter answers a clear yes. The CDU member of the Bundestag, his party’s foreign policy expert and leader of the parliamentary group Merz accompanied him to Ukraine this week. “It’s about showing solidarity, listening, and making it clear: We are there and we stand behind you,” Kiesewetter says in an interview with our editors.

“The visit has cemented my position,” says Kiesewetter. “When you smell burning houses, you know it’s right to stand by Ukraine.” Kiesewetter says the people interviewed for the site “cut the time to get involved”. “It shows how important support and solidarity are for Ukraine.”

A fine line

He sees the deputy himself and his colleagues playing an important role – even when it comes to conveying impressions of his homeland: “Our task is also to reflect the concerns and concerns of Ukraine to the population here in Germany,” he says.

At the same time, politicians dare to walk a fine line with these visits: you can quickly be accused of orchestrating yourself or taking advantage of the trip to your party. SPD leader Lars Klingbeil warned against “using war as a partisan tool” when CDU leader Merz announced his visit.

Meanwhile, members of all parliamentary blocs traveled to Ukraine, with the exception of the AfD. Kizioter, a politician from the CDU, sees this also as an important signal: “It is good that politicians from different parties go to Ukraine, because every political force in the country has different access to parties or NGOs.”

Kyiv expert: “Politicians are primarily interested in media attention”

Vyacheslav Likhachev looks at the topic with mixed feelings: “I think that German politicians mainly pay attention to the attention of the media during such visits,” said the political scientist and journalist from Kyiv when asked by our editors. Regarding Frederick Mers’ visit, he also questions to what extent an opposition politician has any influence on the arms delivery.

Because this is what the Ukrainian side is primarily interested in: the country is grateful for signs of solidarity, but more so for military support. That is why Likhachev welcomes him when foreign politicians make their way to Kyiv: “Of course they steal precious hours from the Ukrainian government. But if this time is compensated by the delivery of heavy weapons, we are halfway.”

Philosopher and essayist Volodymyr Yermolenko, editor-in-chief of the UkraineWorld website, agrees that Germany does not have a very positive image in Ukraine. Germany is seen as slow and hesitant when it comes to arms deliveries. “Visits from German politicians are good. But we need more motivation and visits from important officials who are ready to find solutions and take action.”

Decisions on arms shipments are preceded by visits

The Ukrainian president also referred to this aspect when he publicly refused to visit Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier in April. Volodymyr Zelensky said at the time that only politicians who “bring something with them” should come. By this he meant weapons or other forms of military support.

Apparently, German politicians have since tried not to go to Ukraine empty-handed. Vyacheslav Likhachev has the impression that decisions on arms deliveries are made before visits – and not only in Ukraine. This was also pointed out by Frederick Merz, who, as the leader of the opposition, could not start the delivery of any weapons himself: in his view, the last decision of the Bundestag on the delivery of heavy weapons came at the request of the Union.

The decision of the Bundestag now appears to have paved the way for more high-level visits to Kyiv: Meanwhile, Zelensky has officially invited Federal President Steinmeier and the federal government to visit Ukraine. Then Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced Thursday that Foreign Minister Barbock would go there. Another decision was made on Friday: the federal government will deliver seven self-propelled howitzers to Ukraine.

Ukrainian Ambassador Andrei Melnik sees no reason to apologize after his attack on Chancellor Olaf Schultz. “It’s not about apologizing, it’s about setting the right policy these days,” he told Deutschlandfunk on Friday morning.

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