Visit to Zelenskyj: Habeck sets “a sign of reconstruction” in Ukraine


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Visit to Zelenskyy
Habeck sets “a sign of reconstruction” in Ukraine

The last time he was in Ukraine was before he began his term as Minister of Economy. Now Robert Habeck is traveling with a high-ranking business delegation to the country invaded by Russia – and is raising hopes “that there will be reconstruction after the war.”

Jahidne is a damp and cold nest on this Monday in early April. Roosters crow, there is a smell of the pine trees that surround the school building. A group of villagers stands behind the tape and observes what usually happens when Volodymyr Zelenskyj appears: a column of heavy black SUVs rushes up, hooded soldiers with their fingers on the triggers get out, security forces surround the area with their eyes everywhere. The President of Ukraine shakes hands with Robert Habeck.

The two meet in Jahidne because just a year ago several hundred people experienced a version of hell on earth here. When Russian troops marched into the sleepy village in northern Ukraine at the beginning of March 2022, they crammed around 350 residents together in the basement of the school for weeks, with barely enough space to sit down or even lie down. According to Zelenskyj, eleven did not survive the inhumane conditions. The Russian occupiers are said to have murdered more than a dozen residents.

“All our partners have to see these cellars to understand that they have to help Ukraine,” says Zelenskyj when he and the German vice chancellor left the cellar again. “All one can wish for the President of Russia is that he spends his remaining days in the basement with a bucket instead of a toilet.”

Selenskyj would like more support

When asked how satisfied he was with the German military aid – but also that of the US, Great Britain and the EU – Ukraine needs more support, Zelenskyj replies. You can see what Russia is doing, he says, with the school behind him and Habeck at his side.

Habeck is a late traveler to Ukraine, many German ministers and Chancellor Olaf Scholz were there before him. Of all of them, however, he probably has the least need to prove how serious he has been about supporting the attacked country for a long time. He was last in Ukraine in May 2021 and made himself impossible with the Greens, of which he was still chairman at the time, with his call for a supply of “defensive weapons” for Ukraine. The Federal Government, which was still black and red at the time, rejected the demand. In 2014, Russia illegally annexed the Black Sea peninsula of Crimea. “Now we’re through, and that’s good, and that’s right,” says Habeck today. “I think we still have a bit to explain why it all took so long and why we weren’t willing to support Ukraine before the war of aggression.”

But the radical change of heart is seen. Meanwhile, Ukrainian government officials regularly praise the German weapon systems almost effusively. The resentments about the long perceived hesitant attitude of the federal government seem settled. In addition to the delivery of the Iris-T air defense system, special thanks go to the Germans for the Leopard 2 tanks for the Ukrainian spring offensive expected in the next few weeks. The deliveries of fighter jets hoped for by Ukraine would not have played a role in his talks with Selenskyj, Habeck later said. It was about support in armament issues, above all to procure ammunition for tanks that are already in Ukraine.

Habeck is already thinking about reconstruction

However, Habeck traveled there as Minister of Economics and brought something with him: “A business delegation that gives Ukraine hope that there will be reconstruction after the war.” Heads of associations such as BDI President Siegfried Russwurm, managers and a representative of the KfW development bank traveled in the special night train. “Concrete investment decisions” have either already been made or are yet to be made, says Habeck.

The Greens politician also wants to relaunch Germany’s energy partnership with Ukraine in order to rebuild the Ukrainian energy system, secure it and make it more climate-friendly. There is a lot to build up in Ukraine. For example, the high bridge over the Desna River in the north of the country, which was destroyed in a Russian air raid last spring. Habeck and Selenskyj are standing on a surviving part at noon, while below them cars are driving over a temporary floating bridge. The two spend half the day together.

60 million euros for a bridge

The governor of the Chernihiv province, Vyacheslav Tschaus, describes the financial extent of the destruction. Habeck asks questions, and in the end all three do the math. The governor estimates the cost of repairing the bridge, which is part of an important traffic artery, to be 2.4 billion Ukrainian hryvnias. The equivalent of around 60 million euros.

The Ukraine now wants to send “a strong signal of reconstruction,” says Habeck. The country hopes that companies will make investment decisions and develop projects. In the case of Ukraine, contrary to its usual practice, the federal government decided to give guarantees for investments. “What has to be done is that there is investment security. And we give it.”

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