German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier welcomed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to Berlin on Sunday for his first visit to the country since Russia invaded Ukraine.
Zelenskyy’s visit on Sunday comes as he seeks new arms shipments to help his country repel the Russian invasion, and funds to rebuild what has been destroyed by more than a year of devastating conflict.
A Luftwaffe plane flew Zelenskyy to the German capital from Rome, where he had met Pope Francis and Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni on Saturday.
On the eve of his arrival — which takes place in a context of high security — the German government announced a new program of military aid to Ukraine worth more than 2.7 billion euros (3, 97 billion Canadian dollars), including tanks, anti-aircraft systems and ammunition.
“Already in Berlin. Weapons. Powerful package. Air defense. Reconstruction. EU. NATO. Security,” Zelenskyy tweeted on Sunday, in an apparent reference to the main priorities of his trip.
After initially hesitating to supply Ukraine with lethal weapons, Germany has become one of Ukraine’s largest arms suppliers, including Leopard 1 and 2 main battle tanks and the sophisticated air defense system IRIS-T SLM.
Modern Western equipment is seen as crucial if Ukraine is to succeed in its planned counter-offensive against Russian troops. Zelenskyy met for the first time with President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, the German head of state, who was snubbed by Kiev last year, apparently because of his close ties with Russia, causing a cooling of diplomatic relations between Ukraine and Germany.
Since then, Steinmeier and Chancellor Olaf Scholz have visited Ukraine, assuring Zelenskyy of their support for his country’s fight against the Russian invasion.
Announcing the new arms package, German Defense Minister Boris Pistorius said Berlin would help Ukraine “as long as it takes”.
After meeting Scholz and other senior Chancellery officials, the two leaders are expected to fly to the western city of Aachen for Zelenskyy to receive the International Charlemagne Prize awarded to him and the Ukrainian people.
Organizers say the award recognizes that their resistance against Russia’s invasion is a defense “not only of their country’s sovereignty and the lives of its citizens, but also of Europe and European values”.
While German leaders have voiced strong support for Ukraine, German voters are split on whether the country should supply more weapons, especially advanced fighter jets of the kind Kiev is asking its allies .
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