Ukraine’s Ambassador: Andriy Melnyk on urgently needed weapons, diplomatic intuition and relations between the SPD and Russia

Flowers are in front of his office in Berlin-Mitte, refugees from Ukraine are queuing up in front of the consular department, an employee in camouflage suits will open the door – you do not have to look far for clues that Andriy Melnyk’s country is at war. In an interview, the Ukrainian ambassador to Germany talks about the mistakes that made the war possible and the weapons that are supposed to end it.

Sir. Ambassador, what does a normal day of war look like for you?

My days are 24/7 at the moment and can hardly be planned, everything is constantly changing. There are always short-term shifts with President Volodymyr Zelensky or with my Foreign Minister. The president is always close to events – especially in Germany, wanting to know everything exactly.

How are you?

There are often video calls with our ambassadors in EU countries or in other regions. Then it is clarified what the current tasks look like, which is the most important thing now. Only on Monday we talked for an hour about weapons, it’s about practical issues like heavy weapons and ammunition, which we need especially now.

Are you also talking about how to fill your role? There is no shortage of criticism and irritation.

As an ambassador, I must represent – and defend – the interests of my country. And if our voice is not heard or ignored, then I just have to raise my voice.

Do you see your main task as influencing the public in such a way that the political pressure to support your country increases?

It’s also part of it. Fortunately, we are allowed to live in the Federal Republic, a democratic country with a free press that also has an open ear for diplomats. In many other countries, an ambassador could not work like that. It was only in Germany that I really understood that the media is the fourth state. On the other hand, I also recognized the limits of their power because politicians are often allowed to simply ignore the media. In the Syrian war it was like this: Everyone knew what war crimes Russia had committed against the civilian population there, there were horrific images – like now from Mariupol or many other Ukrainian cities – and the federal government simply looked the other way.

What exactly did it mean to you?

This war is closely linked to the Russian invasion of Ukraine. The atrocities in Syria have meant that hardly anyone in Berlin has been interested in civilians on the contact line being bombed day and night since 2014. Syria was not only the biggest scare – it was also the place where red lines were drawn and so on. forgot the use of chemical weapons. It was a bad experience for me that there was so much need for action on the part of the world community, and yet nothing was done. Everyone also knew about Putin’s responsibilities, and no one even raised a finger – not even Mr Steinmeier as foreign minister to punish Russia harshly.

Is that one reason you’re holding the pressure so high now?

Yes, that’s my personal lesson from this bitter experience. I act intuitively, listening to my heart. The Germans can logically understand everything that is happening at the moment. But there are more and more situations where one has to use either emotion or provocation. There is no other way in this worst war in Europe since 1945.

Now the Chancellor has responded to the constant pressure. Your country can buy more weapons from Germany, there is an industry list for this. Was that what you were waiting for?

This is not the strong military support we are hoping for from Berlin. The problem is that there are no heavy weapons on this disinfected list. So it is not clear to us how we are actually going to spend the extra billion euros that are fortunately being made available for arms purchases. Money alone does not bring much. We are also running out of time. I do not understand why Germany always makes the right decision at the bottom.

What happens next?

We will arrange another meeting between the Chancellor and our President. They urgently need to clarify what we can now specifically buy. My hope is that the money will be prioritized for the heavy weapons that we need most, now that Russia’s major offensive is in full swing. I will continue to urge the Bundeswehr to provide us with even more weapon systems from their warehouses.

They are “exhausted”, says Minister Christine Lambrecht.

Many representatives of the German arms industry tell me that this can not be true. The Bundeswehr could always supply much more, including armored vehicles, especially the Marder.

Weapons for Ukraine, yes - but which ones?

They are, in turn, said to be tied to NATO’s eastern flank in Lithuania.

Just a few days ago, the head of an important arms company sat here with me. We talked again about the proposal from the beginning of March: About 100 of the approximately 400 Bundeswehr mares are used only for training. If they were handed over to us immediately, they could be replaced in a matter of months by a general overhaul of discarded units. The argument that instruction from German personnel is tantamount to going to war under international law does not apply either: the industry tells us that their trainers can do this directly with our army. That would be a matter of a maximum of three weeks or even less, as our soldiers already have experience with similar tanks. With political will, the first 20 or 30 pieces would have already been handed over.

Did your conversation with SPD leader Saskia Esken serve this purpose? Is Social Democracy the main problem for you?

The SPD is the largest and most influential governing party, but also the party where there is still great internal resistance to adapting to the dark new world we have had to live in since 24 February. I understand how difficult it must be for the older generation of SPD MPs in particular to have to act against previous foreign policy judgments – not least we like the new reality.

Brandt’s cheese policy is part of the SPD’s DNA and was historically commendable. When did Russia’s policy become problematic?

The roots of our current problem probably lie in the period during and after reunification. The Germans were rightly grateful to the Russians, especially Mikhail Gorbachev. Decades later, undesirable developments in Moscow and Vladimir Putin’s unfriendly intentions were ignored, and ever closer economic ties were established and Germany’s dependence on Moscow steadily increased. Above all, Putin, who knows the German soul, the sympathies for Russia in the East and the deep awareness of the historical guilt towards the Soviet Union, felt at one point that the Germans also allowed themselves to be used as an instrument.

Tanya Malyarchuk and

And all this is supposed to be an SPD problem? Angela Merkel’s CDU has ruled for 16 years.

All German politics must question itself. Some Union politicians, who are now strongly criticizing the government for its passivity towards Ukraine, told me a few months ago that Germany should under no circumstances supply us with weapons. Last year, Angela Merkel personally prevented us from buying 90 sniper rifles from NATO. That sounds absurd. The new CDU leader Friedrich Merz may appear more credible because he was not part of the union-led federal government.

In addition to sticking to Nord Stream II, what did they do wrong?

From our point of view, this was primarily the rigid observance of the Minsk agreement, although the Russians have de facto buried it since the end of 2015. After the annexation of Crimea in 2014, the agreement between Berlin and Washington was that the Americans would not supply us with weapons, but that Europe and, above all, Germany would take over the diplomatic command. We supported the Minsk Agreement, which at least provided for the withdrawal of Russian troops from our territory and the restoration of our sovereignty over the occupied territories of the Donbass. But already in the autumn of 2015, Russia started a barbaric war in Syria and was therefore necessary to “resolve” this conflict, as well as for the nuclear negotiations with Iran.

What was the result?

At one point in the more than 100 meetings in the Normandy format, only pressure was put on Ukraine for us as the “reasonable” ones to make advance payments in the implementation of Minsk. Merkel and her foreign ministers knew full well that Putin was making increasingly aggressive statements about Ukraine and that he wanted a new war rather than peace, but they let it go. Russia’s ever-increasing economic influence did the rest: in 2019, Peter Altmaier inaugurated a new Mercedes factory near Moscow with Putin.

Now it’s about an energy embargo. The government claims that a gas import ban would weaken Putin less than Germany and that it would lose the ability to help. Are you not taking it seriously?

Yes, of course we do not care what happens to Germany, one of our most important partners. However, there is still no open debate in which scientists’ differing professional views on an immediate gas and oil embargo can be heard. In the beginning, there was great public support for an import ban. Then the government began to present the Germans with a nightmare scenario where not only would it be two degrees colder in the living room, but entire sectors of the economy would collapse. The industry has also intimidated people even more with their lobbyists. Support for an embargo fell. My call: The traffic light must also deal with other analyzes and not, like the Chancellor with Anne Will, consider everything that does not come from the government to be questionable. The picture is not so one-sided.

Coal and oil embargoes are on the way. So you keep promoting an immediate gas embargo?

Yes, I’m promoting an immediate moratorium. You could say we put an embargo on for a month or two and look at Putin’s behavior. I firmly believe that this will have a decisive effect on him and will help stop this senseless bloody war and not rather prolong it by 32 billion euros in payments a year.

Trained lawyer and experienced diplomat

Andriy Melnyk (46) was born in Lviv, formerly Lemberg, when Ukraine was still part of the Soviet Union. The lawyer joined the diplomatic service in 1997 and worked, among other things, at the Ukrainian embassy in Austria and at the president’s office. From 2007 to 2012 he was Consul General of Ukraine in Hamburg, and since 2015 he has been his country’s ambassador to Germany. Melnyk is married and has two children and speaks fluent German.

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