(AP) — Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was welcomed with military honors Sunday by German Chancellor Olaf Scholz as he made his first visit to Germany since Russia invaded Ukraine.
Zelenskyy is visiting allies in search of further arms deliveries to help his country fend off the Russian invasion, and funds to rebuild what’s been destroyed by more than a year of devastating conflict.
A Luftwaffe jet flew Zelenskyy to the German capital from Rome, where he had met Saturday with Pope Francis and Italian Premier Giorgia Meloni.
On the eve of his arrival — which is taking place amid tight security — the German government announced a new package of military aid for Ukraine worth more than 2.7 billion euros ($3 billion), including tanks, anti-aircraft systems and ammunition.
“Already in Berlin. Weapons. Powerful package. Air defense. Reconstruction. EU. NATO. Security,” Zelenskyy tweeted Sunday, in an apparent reference to the key priorities of his trip.
After initially hesitating to provide Ukraine with lethal weapons, Germany has become one of the biggest suppliers of arms to Ukraine, including Leopard 1 and 2 battle tanks, and the sophisticated IRIS-T SLM air-defense system. Modern Western hardware is considered crucial if Ukraine is to succeed in its planned counteroffensive against Russian troops.
Zelenskyy first met with President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, Germany’s head of state, who was snubbed by Kyiv last year, apparently over his previous close ties to Russia, causing a chill in diplomatic relations between Ukraine and Germany.
Since then, both 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 for “as long as it takes.”
After meeting Scholz and other senior officials at the chancellery, 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 people of Ukraine.
Organizers say the award recognizes that their resistance against Russia’s invasion is a defense “not just of the sovereignty of their country and the life of its citizens, but also of Europe and European values.”
While German leaders have expressed strong backing for Ukraine, German voters are divided on whether the country should provide further weapons, particularly advanced fighter jets of the kind Kyiv is asking its allies for.