Germany won't engage in 'bidding war' over support for Ukraine, Olaf Scholz vows
Olaf Scholz warned Germany would not be drawn into “public bidding war” over military support for Ukraine ahead of a meeting with Volodymyr Zelensky.
The pair dined with France’s Emmanuel Macron at the Elysee Palace in Paris on Wednesday evening before travelling to Brussels on Thursday, where Mr Zelensky will address a summit of European Union leaders.
Mr Scholz's remarks were expected to put him at loggerheads with the Ukrainian president who is using a mini-tour of Europe to build a coalition of allies willing to provide Nato-standard aircraft to Kyiv.
Mr Zelensky on Wednesday secured the backing of Britain to provide Ukrainian pilots with training on the high-level weaponry.
Speaking ahead of the dinner, Mr Scholz said Germany and its partners had backed Ukraine “financially, with humanitarian aid and with weapons”, adding: “We will continue to do so as long as necessary. I am taking a clear message to Brussels: Ukraine belongs to the European family.”
Mr Scholz has repeatedly rejected pleas by Kyiv to supply Ukraine with fighter jets, despite criticism over his slow-moving decision to finally send German battle tanks.
Before travelling to Paris, the German chancellor accused his critics of engaging in “a public bidding war according to the principle of battle tanks, submarines, battleships, who can offer more”.
“Germany won’t get involved,” he told the German parliament.
Instead of fighter jets, Berlin, alongside the Netherlands and Denmark, were said to be "focused" on donating close to 200 older Leopard 1 battle tanks.
But the issue of fighter jets was expected to be raised over dinner in the French capital, according to diplomats, who said Ukraine’s long-term military plans and weaponry needs would be the focus.
An advisor to Mr Zelensky told The Telegraph that securing extra weaponry, including fighter jets, from Europe was the "main reason" for his trip to Europe.
Bild, Germany's best-selling newspaper, rounded on Mr Scholz's decision to fly to Paris to meet the Ukrainian president.
The publication asked if Mr Zelensky was sending Mr Scholz, who dithered over whether to send Leopard tanks to Ukraine, a message by forcing him to take a flight to shake hands.
France has said it is considering plans to follow Britain’s lead in offering training to Ukraine’s fighter jet pilots, a move that could eventually lead to combat aircraft being provided to Kyiv.
Poland and the Baltic states of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia were also said to be supportive of the move to ramp up military support.
Mr Zelensky will double down on his plea for fighter jets on Thursday when he addresses the EU’s 27 leaders as part of an extraordinary European Council summit in Brussels.
His decision to travel to London before holding talks with his EU allies in the Belgian capital was said to have focused minds.
An Eylsee official said: “It’s a very good thing that he is going to the UK.”
“Zelensky could never show up in Brussels before first acknowledging the role of the first European country to buttress the Ukrainian resistance,” a second diplomatic source added.
The Ukrainian president will deliver a speech to the bloc's leaders inside the European Council's Europa building, before holding separate bilateral discussions with his counterparts.
The moment, a rare honour for a foreign leader, will be significant for Ukraine given its defiant turn westwards during the Maidan protests in 2014.
But some fear his demands for weaponry could overshadow the meeting. “That’s not an EU issue, especially because we have four natural countries within the EU,” a senior EU diplomat said.
Zelensky: Macron has changed
EU leaders will also discuss a tenth round of economic sanctions against Russia, humanitarian support and Ukraine's accession to the bloc.
In a joint letter, the prime ministers of Poland, Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia pushed their EU colleagues to accelerate work on using some €33.8 billion in frozen Russian assets to support the reconstruction of Ukraine.
"We cannot wait until the war is over and a peace agreement is signed," they wrote.
Ahead of his visit to Paris, Mr Zelensky said Emmanuel Macron had "changed" since the French leader irritated Ukraine with his comments on the need to avoid "humiliating" Russia.
"I think he has changed, and changed for real this time," Mr Zelensky told Le Figaro newspaper. "After all, it's him who paved the way for the delivery of tanks. And he has also supported Ukraine's membership to the EU. I think that was a real signal."
Mr Macron said in June last year that it was vital that Russia is not humiliated so that when the fighting stops, a diplomatic solution can be found.