Andriy Melnyk is one of the most unusual ambassadors of Ukraine. He is a career diplomat, but the way he works is contrary to the established norms of the ambassador’s role. Melnyk is sharp and uncompromising in his criticism of the politicians of his host country.
His comments have caused changes in government policy and forced Germany’s top politicians to apologize to Ukraine.
Now his conflict with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier is in full swing.
“Putin holds German stability in his hands”
– Ukraine is focused on the actions of the German government. What do you think Germany is? A friend or not?
– Germany has been and remains a key country in the EU and one of the main countries in NATO, which must play a historic role for Ukraine, so that Ukraine can finally find its place in these two organizations.
Also, Germany is a state forced by the war to rethink its role and attitude toward both Russia and Ukraine.
– President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, with whom you currently have a public conflict, is one of those who has not reconsidered this.
– We see Steinmeier’s attempts to admit mistakes in relations with Russia, which may have even led to Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. He said he was disappointed in Putin, that Nord Stream was a mistake. But he is forced to make these statements under pressure from the media, which has sharply criticized him.
I do not believe that a person can change in a few weeks, especially a politician like Steinmeier.
But I know that there cannot be a new period in Germany’s relations with Ukraine without a critical review, perhaps even an investigation, of the events of the last two decades in Germany. The possibility of such a political investigation is being seriously considered in Berlin.
I think not only Steinmeier but also Angela Merkel and many others will be invited to answer the question: how is it possible that Putin actually holds the stability of the German economy in his hands?
According to the German government, if Putin decides to cut off gas, oil and coal tomorrow, there will be a catastrophe in Germany. There will be millions of unemployed, and entire sectors of the economy will simply be destroyed. Both government officials and analysts say it will deal an irreparable blow to stability and social peace in the country. A few months ago, the Germans assured the world that such dependence on Russia did not exist and everything was under control. It all turned out to be a fairy tale.
That is why I feel the anger among society and journalists grows day by day.
Germany needs to work on these pages of its history to get out of this crisis.
– Claims against Steinmeier in the media were promoted by you personally. You’re often tough in statements. Are you still “persona grata” in Germany?
– Of course, I have daily meetings in the parliament, the Foreign Ministry and the Government.
Many believe that Ukraine’s ambassador is not quite diplomatic, which is contrary to the established practice.
But I explain to everyone this is about the survival of Ukraine, and there is less space for politeness. If we are ignored, then I have to reach the goal in all possible ways; to be tough if necessary.
So far, the approach is working.
Indeed, now the role of Ukraine is decisive in changing the German policy. Indeed, I had to start this discussion about Steinmeier.
It happened like this: he invited me, the Ambassador of Ukraine, to a concert of Russian soloists with Russian music. I refused and explained in an interview that this is unacceptable as long as Russia continues to kill Ukrainians in a barbaric and cynical way. The media picked this up and a discussion began among the Germans.
“The myth that Russia is invincible is in the German DNA”
– What is topic number one for you now?
– The main thing is weapons.
Opening the supply of weapons from Germany was a matter of honor for me on the eve of the war. Four days before the Russian attack, I said emotionally in a video interview that “if Putin attacks us and Germany does not provide weapons, the Ukrainians will never forgive you.”
Unfortunately, this is what happened: the weapons were provided only on the third day of the war. But I believed all the time that sooner or later, Germany would lift the ban.
Now we have another question: we need heavy weapons – tanks, 155 mm heavy howitzers.
– The manufacturer is ready to provide tanks to Ukraine. Who is slowing it down?
– We managed to convince the Green Party and have almost convinced the Liberals. But the decision will be made by Chancellor Olaf Scholz and the Social Democrats. This is a pacifist party in general, which has opposed the armament of even Germany itself.
In my opinion, in the Social Democrat faction in the Bundestag, more than half of the deputies follow the old pacifist approaches.
The question is to what extent Chancellor Scholz can take the lead and convince skeptics that Germany cannot afford to stand by.
I have a good feeling that we are already approaching this decision.
The Germans are wondering which side of history they will be on when the war is over and when Ukraine wins. Historians would ask: who did what, who helped and who did not help.
This question is becoming increasingly important for politicians in Germany.
I once jokingly said, and now everyone in Germany reminds me of this: “I am not only an ambassador but also an arms dealer.”
There is some truth in this because I meet with the leaders of the largest German arms companies every day. Just before our conversation, the president of the largest German defense industry company Rheinmetall came to my embassy.
We are now negotiating this agreement. It is very complex. There are political obstacles. There is an unresolved financial issue – how much Germany will help us in the purchase of these weapons, both during this war and after. When the war ends, the threat from Russia will not disappear, therefore, we need to buy the best air defense systems, the most powerful guns, artillery systems, multiple rocket launcher systems – things that will prevent a future invasion.
– Why do German politicians not agree?
– Many in Germany do not believe that Russia can be beaten. There is a living myth in Germany about the “power of the Russian state.” It’s almost a part of their DNA: “Russia is invincible.”
What Ukraine, the Ukrainian army, is doing is changing their preconceived notions. But this process is not over yet.
This is very important. If German officials believe that Russia will not lose, they will prepare themselves to restore a dialogue with Russia after the war.
“Ukraine has a chance to join the EU in 3-5 years”
– What do German society and politicians think about Ukraine’s membership in the EU?
– This is one of the two most important topics that I raise every day. The first is weapons, the second is EU candidate status and what Germany will do after Ukraine becomes a candidate.
Now my approach is: you Germans are all accused of falling behind, making decisions only under pressure. Weapons, sanctions – you are always among the last.
But now you have a historic chance to change this.
Germany must support our membership, saying: “We give Ukraine a chance to negotiate accession sooner than the Western Balkans countries.”
In this case, there is a real chance to join the EU in 3-4-5 years.
There is starting to be some support of this approach. Social Democratic Party co-chair Lars Klingbeil has public statements in recent weeks that “Ukraine will become part of the EU”. The other day he came to the Embassy of Ukraine together with another party co-chair Saskia Esken. I said, “Mr. Klingbeil, Ms. Esken, you have a historic opportunity. Ukrainians may forgive the many strategic failures of Germany, such as Nord Stream, if you use the trump card of European integration.”
I had the impression that this signal was heard.
Germany must become a leader in this process, convincing France, the Netherlands, the Benelux countries and Hungary. I am optimistic that we will be able to achieve this and Germany will stand on the right side of history.
– We talked enough about skeptics. And who are the friends of Ukraine in Germany?
– It may sound banal, but our main friend is the German people. German society has woken up. The vast majority of Germans realize that something has gone wrong.
They do not yet understand what needs to be done next, but they know that Ukraine has fallen victim, in part because of the wrong policies of the previous German governments. It’s a feeling of guilt.
Our second ally is the media.
They were always told, “Everything is under control, don’t worry.” And now they have seen that Germany, because of previous governments, is on the brink of not only geopolitical but also economic catastrophe, and their well-being is at stake. And journalists ask their government.
So, society and the media are our main allies.
We need a German “Lend-Lease”
– Who supports Ukraine among German politicians?
– Our best friends are the Green Party and Vice-Chancellor Robert Habeck, who is trying to influence the policies of the entire government.
By the way, the other day, there was a poll of popularity among politicians, and Habeck came out on top. His popularity has grown +7 percent in recent weeks, and so have some other politicians. All those who support Ukraine automatically have the support of German society.
We also have friends among the main opposition CDU / CSU party, until recently the ruling party, which is also rethinking its role.
– Merkel did not seem to rethink it…
– It is a pity that she has decided not to comment on anything and not to react to modern politics. She is unlikely to be able to be silent for a long.
However, the party has a new leader. This is Friedrich Merz, with whom I have good personal relations. And even those members of his party who served in previous government feel guilt as they are responsible for “North Stream”, for not giving us weapons, for blocking our EU-rapprochement.
Support of the opposition, the media and public opinion create a favorable background for government decisions to provide what we need. Most importantly – heavy weapons.
– Is it worth waiting for Olaf Scholz’s visit to Ukraine?
– I think so. But this visit only makes sense if the Chancellor brings the coalition’s decision to support Ukraine. Heavy weapons, the sixth package of sanctions.
Also, we need a law on “Lend-Lease”.
This war will continue for a very long time. The Germans must understand that they can’t limit themselves to a single supply.
– Not only the United States must fight Russia.
– Absolutely. I think this idea is maturing. Although for Germany, “Lend-lease” has a slightly different meaning than for the British. But the name doesn’t matter. There must be some systemic solution. I call it the Ukraine support act.
And, of course, a government decision on the European integration track is needed.
– Meanwhile, we do not want to see Steinmeier in Kyiv.
– At the request of Berlin, we sent signals that at this stage, the priority for the Ukrainian state is the arrival of the Chancellor because he makes the decisions that we are expecting.
We do not have time for any protocol exchanges now. For us now, the question is whether the Ukrainian state will survive and whether we will be able to minimize the number of Ukrainian killed in this war.