Opinion: Why Ukrainians distrust the German president | European | News and current affairs from across the continent | DW

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier was not welcome in kyiv. It has not been revealed who exactly in the Ukrainian leadership made this decision. However, Steinmeier was unable to join the small group of other European presidents warmly welcomed in the Ukrainian capital.

Why did this happen to the German president? In this question, you can stress both the word “German” and the word “president”. I don’t know which of them should be emphasized the most.

Friendly approach

But first, a brief return to a personal story. At the end of summer 2016, I was in the German city of Weimar, where I received the Goethe Medal together with an eminent Nigerian photographer and a no less eminent Georgian archaeologist.

The official program included a meeting with three foreign ministers. As a reminder, Germany, Poland and France form the so-called “Weimar Triangle” – the foreign ministers of the three countries meet from time to time, not necessarily in Weimar, but that is where it is. was at the time. According to the program, the ministers were to congratulate the three new winners.

Ukrainian writer Yuri Andrukhovych

Our meeting lasted between one and three minutes at most. The French Foreign Minister seemed a little bored, maybe he was just tired. The Polish foreign minister seemed displeased with something and grumpy. Only Steinmeier, the German Foreign Minister at the time, was affable – it seemed he could hardly resist patting us on the shoulder or back.

Then he said something like, “Oh, well done, congratulations… The Goethe Medal! Great, great… can someone tell me why it’s being awarded? What merits?” That’s how he addressed the three of us. Everything happened quickly and no one really listened to our answers. When the television cameras rolled, the trio of ministers moved on.

Putin sympathizer model

Akinbode Akinbiyi, David Lordkipanidze and I then exchanged our impressions of this so-called “meeting”. We agreed that it all seemed rather unprofessional and that we considered Steinmeier’s question a joke, albeit a bad one. Otherwise, it would have been even sadder. None of us had expected the ministers to bow to us. But this obvious superficiality — and the less obvious but noticeable arrogance — disappointed us.

This was particularly disappointing for me – after all, I came from the country for which Frank-Walter Steinmeier had found his infamous formula. I don’t want to pretend that this played a decisive role in the rest of his career or that it was the reason why Steinmeier was twice elected president. But I can say with certainty that it is precisely because of this formula that Ukrainian society sees him as a model Putin sympathizer, and almost as an “agent of Moscow”.

Written by Moscow?

The infamous phrase that lost all meaning on February 24 was de facto intended to cement Ukraine’s surrender in the Donbass. It matches Putin’s plans to such an extent that Ukrainians naturally attribute its true paternity to Moscow. Apparently, Steinmeier adheres to the wishes of his Russian friends and has agreed to lend his name and suggested the authorship of a disastrous project for Ukraine. If secret diplomacy is considered evil par excellence, the current German president owns the copyright to its incarnation, at least in the eyes of many Ukrainians.

I don’t think Steinmeier is aware of how often the Ukrainian media, especially since 2019, has mentioned his name with the word “formula”. It’s no exaggeration to say that it was thousands, if not tens of thousands of times. This “popularity” is accompanied by an avalanche of criticism, mistrust and outright rejection. For Ukrainians, the “Steinmeier formula” has become synonymous with something insidious and threatening, a sort of Trojan horse for the destruction of the Ukrainian state.

Unparalleled unpopularity

Perhaps the “author” himself, who has long since risen to a higher, albeit rather decorative position, has already forgotten the essence of the formula he invented. But Ukraine has not forgotten, remembered all those years, almost daily, almost always with a curse and always in connection with the name Steinmeier. On the list of German politicians most hated by Ukrainians, Steinmeier comes just behind his former boss, ex-Chancellor Gerhard Schröder. As for current politically active figures, no one comes close to Steinmeier’s unpopularity.

Steinmeier ad Lavrov, two men laugh together

Ukrainians get suspicious when they see photos like this of Steinmeier and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov

With Steinmeier’s example in mind, the German elite should recognize how damaging its ambiguous policies during the Russian-Ukrainian conflict have been since 2014. In the process, they have not only harmed Ukraine, but also to themselves: stigmatized as an extremely unreliable, cynical, and cunning partner, whose words blatantly diverge from their actions. As a result, Germany lost its relevance and, thanks to the efforts of the previous and current federal government, became an outsider.

“Unimportant president of an unimportant country”

Ukrainian society and the country’s leaders, who depend heavily on public opinion, clearly felt the moment when the United States and Britain filled the void – the moment when they could say “no” even to the German President Steinmeier and had to do so for strategic reasons.

But the “unimportant president of an unimportant country” can radically fix this situation. Germany as a whole can regain its role in the eyes of the Ukrainians – especially since neither the United States nor Great Britain are involved: by providing effective and committed support to Ukraine on the road to accession to the EU. Germany must do this, but without flirting with the aggressor and the ambiguities that go with it.

Yuri Andrukhovych is a Ukrainian writer, poet, essayist and translator. Today, he is considered one of the most important cultural and intellectual voices in his country. Andrukhovych’s works have been translated and published all over the world.

This article was originally written in Ukrainian.

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