Travel can transform people. You see the world with different eyes. This effect can also be seen in Olaf Scholz in the Ukraine.
German domestic politics is very far away there. It’s no longer about questions like: Why is he only driving now and who was there before him?
The standard he himself formulated for the meaning of the trip suddenly took on a different dimension. It has to be more than “a short walk in and out with a photo session” and it has to be about “very concrete things”.
Viewed from Berlin, the hurdle seemed easy to overcome. A suitable guest gift would be found.
But what is effective enough not to look out of place when the Chancellor sees the devastation to people and buildings left by the war in Irpin?
When Volodymyr Zelenskyy describes to him, Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi and the Presidents of France and Romania, Emmanuel Macron and Klaus Johannis, how difficult the situation in Donbass is becoming, that 200 soldiers are killed there every day and many civilians die.
That Ukraine cannot hold out much longer and that Vladimir Putin is likely to order the next attack on Kyiv unless Europe and the USA quickly deliver more weapons and ammunition. Western type main battle tanks too, preferably German Leopards.
The travel impressions have shifted the scale of evaluation on the scale between a photo session and very concrete things. Gestures and promises that seemed to carry great political weight in Berlin before leaving now only have symbolic power.
It has become obvious that they are of little help to Ukraine here and now and in the struggle for survival over the next few months. For example, Selenskyj’s invitation to the G-7 summit in Bavaria at the end of June, which he can only attend via video link anyway.
Or supporting the motion to officially make Ukraine a candidate for accession to the EU. Even the promise that sounds like a holy oath, “We Europeans stand firmly by your side”, must be filled with practical content that counts in everyday wartime.
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If you apply this standard soberly, Scholz did not jump the hurdle he defined himself. Then the complex trip was not much more than a short walk in and out to photo ops with lots of nice words.
Fortunately, the results cannot be evaluated according to this simple black and white pattern. The Ukrainians and their president can trust that the scenes and conversations of the trip left lasting impressions on Scholz, Draghi, Macron and Johannis.
They will feel the same way as others who came to Irpin and Kyiv before them and there, as people and politicians, intuitively understood that it is not enough to view the situation as crisis management. And as a task to prevent an escalation.
In the war in Ukraine, the national identity and state existence of a European people are at stake. And given the imperial ambitions that Putin is showing, peace in more countries.
Putin contributed to the impressions in his own way: air alerts about Russian attacks during the visit and the cut in gas supplies.
Will Scholz look at it with different eyes when decisions about sanctions, weapons and other help are due again? German interests and the sensitivities of the governing parties are still the focus. In addition, however, the impressions from Irpin and Kyiv now have their place.