German president Steinmeier arrives in Kyiv for surprise visit

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German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier arrived in Kyiv on Tuesday, his spokesperson told AFP, confirming his surprise visit to Ukraine.

The trip is his first to the country since Russia invaded Ukraine in February, and came five months after Steinmeier, then under heavy fire for his years-long detente policy with Moscow, was snubbed by Kyiv.

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The president also had to abort a trip at the last-minute last week over security reasons, sparking criticisms from Germany’s opposition.

“I am looking forward to my meeting with [Ukrainian] President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in Kyiv,” he said, according to a confirmation sent by his spokeswoman.

Before meeting Zelenskyy, Steinmeier will visit a town in the north of the country, near the Belarusian border, which Ukraine says has been liberated from Russian troops but left with its infrastructure destroyed.

Steinmeier will provide aid to the municipality for its energy infrastructure, he said.

“My message to Ukrainians: you can count on Germany,” Steinmeier said.

In the months after Russia invaded Ukraine, Steinmeier, a former foreign minister, was heavily criticized over his years-long rapprochement stance towards Moscow, which he has since admitted was a mistake.

His offer to visit Kyiv in April was snubbed, sparking irritation between the two countries.

Chancellor Olaf Scholz then said Kyiv’s refusal to receive Steinmeier was a barrier to his own visit to Ukraine – which eventually only took place in June along with Italy’s Mario Draghi and France’s Emmanuel Macron.

Steinmeier, a Social Democrat serving his second stint as German president, was a foreign minister in two of former chancellor Angela Merkel’s governments.

He has been a leading advocate of the “Wandel durch Handel” (Change through Trade) concept, which argues that fostering close commercial ties can help spur democratic reforms.

Steinmeier also championed the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between Russia and Germany, which has now been halted over Moscow’s aggression in Ukraine.

But he has since admitted that his detente approach towards President Vladimir Putin had been misguided, and that there could be “no return to normal with Putin’s Russia.”

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