Tear down ‘wall’ Russia is building in Europe: Zelensky to Germany
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky told German lawmakers that Russia was building a "wall" in Europe that threatened to split the continent anew and appealed for greater support from Berlin.
Zelensky made the Cold War comparison – of a Europe divided between those who enjoy freedom, and those who suffer under tyranny – during a video address to lawmakers in the Bundestag that referenced US president Ronald Reagan's famous appeal to Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to "tear down" the Berlin Wall.
"You somehow find yourself back behind a wall, not the Berlin Wall, but in the middle of Europe, where there is freedom. And this wall is stronger, with every bomb that falls on our soil in Ukraine."
Addressing Chancellor Olaf Scholz directly, he said, "Destroy this wall. Give Germany the leading role that Germany has earned."
Scholz later thanked Zelensky for his "impressive words" but reiterated NATO's refusal to intervene militarily in Ukraine.
Via a translator, Zelensky urged Berlin to support Ukraine's bid to become a member of the European Union, while slamming the German government for delaying imposing sanctions on Russia.
Notably, the Ukrainian leader said the cancellation of Nord Stream 2, a controversial natural gas pipeline leading from Russia to Germany, came too late. He said multiple Ukrainian appeals to drop the project in the run-up to Russia's invasion had been met with the answer: "economy, economy, economy."
Germany suspended the approval process for Nord Stream 2 after Russia recognized eastern Ukraine's breakaway provinces as independent, in a precursor for the full-scale attack on Ukraine.
In his latest speech to a Western parliament, following similar video appearances before US Congress and the European Parliament, Zelensky decried Russian attacks on civilian targets in his country.
Russia is making no distinction between military and civilian targets, he said.
"Russia is bombing our cities and destroying everything in Ukraine. These are homes, hospitals, schools, churches, everything," he said. "In three weeks, many Ukrainians have died, thousands. The occupiers have killed 108 children, in the middle of Europe, in the year 2022."
Again alluding to Germany's turbulent 20th-century, he added, "Once again in Europe, someone is trying to annihilate an entire people."
German lawmakers stood and applauded to greet Zelensky as he appeared on a screen before his speech.
The Bundestag returned to its regular order of business without a break after listening to Zelensky – something for which opposition parties heavily criticized the government.
The deputy president of the Bundestag, Katrin Göring-Eckardt of the Greens, was heckled as she turned to wishing two members of parliament a happy birthday following the address.
And the centre-right Christian Democrats (CDU) decried the fact that the governing parties – Scholz's Social Democrats, the Greens and the Free Democrats (FDP) – had blocked their request for a special debate on the Ukraine crisis to follow Zelensky's speech.
"That was the most undignified moment in the Bundestag today that I have ever experienced," Norbert Röttgen, a CDU foreign policy expert, wrote on Twitter, while party leader Friedrich Merz called the move "totally inappropriate."
The Ukraine conflict has been strongly felt in Germany, where over 187,000 people have arrived after fleeing the violence, according to the Interior Ministry in Berlin.
German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier met Ukrainian refugees and the volunteers helping them at the capital's central railway station on Thursday.
Steinmeier thanked the hundreds of people who help at the station's welcome centre daily. They care for the refugees and show them that "we feel responsible for them here in Germany," he said.
Berlin is one of three central points for dealing with arriving refugees in Germany. On Thursday, the German transport ministry said the eastern city of Cottbus would join Berlin and Hanover, partially to relieve the burden on the capital, which has received thousands of refugees a day.
Scholz was meeting the leaders of Germany's 16 states on Thursday for an online conference, in which the refugee crisis was to be a key theme.
According to a document seen by dpa, the state premiers are calling on the federal government to provide more assistance and clarify what funding will be available to their regions.