German president says Kyiv did not want him to visit

BERLIN (Reuters) – A planned visit to Kyiv by German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier was not welcomed by Ukraine, he said on Tuesday, following a report that President Volodymyr Zelenskiy was critical of Steinmeier’s historic advocacy of Western rapprochement with Russia.

Steinmeier had planned to visit Kyiv with his Polish counterpart Andrzej Duda and the presidents of Estonia, Lithuania and Latvia “to send a strong signal of European solidarity with Ukraine there,” he told journalists during a visit to Warsaw.

“I was ready for that. But apparently – and I have to admit – that was not wanted in Kyiv,” he said, without elaborating.

It was not immediately clear whether the other European leaders would visit without Steinmeier. Ukrainian authorities could not immediately be reached for comment.

Bild newspaper reported earlier on Tuesday that Zelenskiy had rejected Steinmeier’s plans to visit due to his close relations with Russia in recent years and his years of support for the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, a project designed to double the flow of Russian gas direct to Germany but which has since been cancelled.

After Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and a social media backlash tweeting past pictures of Steinmeier affectionately embracing Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, the president expressed regret for his earlier stance.

He said his years of support for Nord Stream 2 had clearly been a mistake.

Asked for comment on Steinmeier’s remarks, a German government spokesperson said, “Germany was and is one of the most determined supporters of Ukraine. … And it will stay that way.

“The federal president takes a clear and unequivocal position on the side of Ukraine,” the spokesperson added.

Steinmeier, a Social Democrat who served as a foreign minister under Chancellor Angela Merkel before being elevated to the presidency, had known Russian President Vladimir Putin since 2001.

A speech that Putin held at Germany’s lower house of parliament in 2001, speaking German to lawmakers, gave Steinmeier hope for better relations between Moscow and Berlin, he told Spiegel magazine in an interview published earlier on Tuesday.

“That Putin from the year 2001 has nothing in common with the Putin of 2022, who we are now experiencing as a brutal, entrenched warmonger,” Steinmeier said.

(Reporting by Riham Alkousaa and Andreas Rinke; Editing by Leslie Adler)

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