What does Chancellor Olaf Scholz have in his luggage when he travels to Kyiv? The answer is quite banal: Chocolate bars, gummy bears and Pinot Noir from Baden – just what you need to survive a ten-hour train journey. Jörg Kukies and Jens Plötner, the Chancellor’s advisors on economics and foreign policy, are late on Friday evening lugging the crates of food across the gloomy platform in Przemysl, the southern Polish border town with Ukraine, where the Chancellor’s most spectacular and perhaps also most important journey in his political career takes its course.
Scholz has to change from his government plane to the train in Poland because the airspace over Ukraine has been closed for almost four months due to the war. In the first months of the war, a number of top politicians took the arduous overland route to Kyiv to express their solidarity with the country attacked by Russia – from Polish President Andrzej Duda to the Chair of the US House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi to EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen, who been there twice.
However, this trip overshadows all previous ones: the heads of the three most populous and economically strongest countries in the European Union make their way through the war zone together: In addition to Scholz, Italy’s Prime Minister Mario Draghi and France’s President Emmanuel Macron are there. All three countries are members of the G7 of democratic economic powers, which Scholz currently chairs. France holds the EU Council Presidency. Romanian President Klaus Iohannis is also to join in Kiev – as a representative of the Eastern European countries that feel particularly threatened by Russia.
A blue special train is waiting on the tracks. Nine wagons, three for each country. Draghi is allowed to sit at the front of the train, Scholz has his compartment quite far back. In the middle, Macron invites you to a one-to-one talk in his saloon car just across the Ukrainian border. The atmosphere is good, people even laugh.
The question now is: what does Europe have in store for Ukraine, which has bravely defended itself against the Russian war of aggression for four months. Scholz himself has set the bar quite high for this. “I’m not going to join a group of people who do a quick in and out with a photo op. But when it does, then it’s always about very specific things,” he once explained his reluctance to travel to Kyiv.
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy recorded the Chancellor’s presentation shortly before the trip. “We also don’t want him to just come to a photo appointment,” he said in a ZDF interview. “We need Chancellor Scholz’s assurance that Germany will support Ukraine.”
Scholz will definitely achieve one thing with his trip: the discussion about a Scholz trip to Kyiv will come to an end. The Ukrainian railway company has put up advertising posters in the aisles of the train, showing a selection of those traveling to Kyiv. Headline: “Railway Diplomacy”. So far, only one German can be seen on it: CDU leader Friedrich Merz, at the bottom right. Possibly his photo will be replaced soon.
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