Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy read Germany the riot act on Thursday, accusing its politicians and companies of putting their profits before his people.
In a robust video address to the Bundestag in Berlin, the Ukrainian leader accused his audience of hypocrisy for repeating the post-1945 mantra “no more wars” while allowing Russia to prepare, unimpeded, a war against his country. “Now we are separated by a wall: not a Berlin Wall but a wall is stretching through Europe between freedom and unfreedom,” he said. “This wall grows with every bomb dropped, with every decision not taken for peace.”
He said Germany had consistently prioritised its economic interests in the region, such as the Nord Stream undersea gas pipeline, over warnings from Kyiv.
“We warned that Nord Stream was preparation for war,” he said. “The answer, we noted, was: ‘It’s just business.’ Business, business business -- that was the mortar for the new wall.”
Unfulfilled promises and unanswered requests - on EU and Nato membership, and preventative sanctions against Russia - were, he said, the bricks that built Europe’s new wall.
Now German politicians, he said, were afraid of looking behind this wall for fear of what they might see: cities razed to the ground and civilians, without drinking water and power, the targets of 24-hour indiscriminate Russian bombings.
He reminded his Berlin audience that their city’s airlift in 1948, supplying West Berliners from the sky when Stalin blocked all approach roads, was only possible because there were secure air corridors.
“In our country we cannot build up an air bridge because all that comes from the skies are Russian bombs and Russian missiles,” he said.
Nato members have refused a Kyiv demand for secure air corridors over Ukraine, for fear of triggering a third World War.
Mr Zelenskiy recalled how, last year, German president Frank Walter Steinmeier visited Kyiv on the 80th anniversary of the massacre of Babyn Jar valley, when Nazis murdered 33,000 Jewish residents of the Ukrainian capital.
In the last days, the Ukrainian president said, a family was killed by Russian missiles when they went to the memorial to remember the dead.
‘Words are worth nothing’
“After 80 years, every year, politicians repeat the words ‘no more war’,” said Mr Zelenskiy, “and we see now that these words are worth nothing”.
After eight decades, he said, his people were being “annihilated” and, with them, everything they treasured.
Mr Zelenskiy expressed his thanks to all in Germany who support Ukraine - civilians, politicians, journalists and firms who have “put morals over profit” and ceased trading with Russia.
He concluded by recalling how former US president Ronald Reagan, in his speech to West Berlin in 1987, urged Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down” the Berlin Wall.
Addressing Chancellor Olaf Scholz, he urged the German leader to “destroy” the new, metaphoric wall created by Russia’s attack on Ukraine.
“Give Germany the leadership role it has earned,” he said, “so that your descendants will be proud of you. Support Ukraine and its people, stop this war and help us to stop this war.”
Since Russia invaded Ukraine last month, Germany has performed two significant u-turns: it suspended the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and has begun delivering arms to Ukraine, shattering a decades-old taboo.
In addition Chancellor Scholz has promised to bring Germany up to its Nato spending obligations and, in addition, announced a €100 billion defence fund to rebuild Germany’s defence capability after years of underinvestment.
But Russia’s war on Ukraine has shattered Berlin’s decades-old policy of “transformation through trade” policy that made Germany one of Russia’s most significant foreign investors.
Before the war there were more than 3,600 German-run companies in the country, employing nearly 280,000 people with direct investment amounting to about €25 billion.
Now most big German companies, from Daimler and Volkswagen to Adidas and building materials giant Knauf, have ceased trading.
Like other EU members, the German government is working to reduce its reliance on Russian energy. Last week in Versailles, however, Mr Scholz said he had made a “conscious decision” to continue buying Russian gas and oil, given Germany’s particular dependency.
Mr Scholz did not respond to the Ukrainian president’s 15-minute address on thursday. Instead, Bundestag vice-president Katrin Göring-Eckardt thanked Mr Zelenskiy and, despite opposition protest, the order of business moved on to discuss Germany’s proposed vaccine mandate.