Zelensky urges Germany to tear down new Russian 'Wall' in Europe

Ahead of his address, German MPs gave Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky a standing ovation. PHOTO: AFP

BERLIN (AFP, REUTERS) - Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky urged Germany in an emotional video address before Parliament on Thursday (March 17) to help destroy a new "Wall" Russia was erecting in Europe.

"It's not a Berlin Wall - it is a Wall in central Europe between freedom and bondage and this Wall is growing bigger with every bomb" dropped on Ukraine, Mr Zelensky told MPs.

Appearing on a screen in his now trademark khaki t-shirt with dark rings under his eyes, Mr Zelensky was welcomed by MPs in the Bundestag lower house with a standing ovation.

In a speech steeped in historical imagery from Germany’s triumph over its Cold War division, Mr Zelensky addressed German Chancellor Olaf Scholz directly with a call for greater solidarity with Ukraine.

"Dear Mr Scholz, tear down this Wall," he implored, evoking then-US president Ronald Reagan's 1987 appeal in Berlin.

“Give Germany the leadership role that you in Germany deserve.”

However he coupled his flattery with a strong rebuke of Berlin’s years-long reluctance to stand up to Moscow and sever its strong energy and business ties with Russia.

“We turned to you,” he said. “We told you that Nord Stream (gas pipelines) was a kind of preparation for the war.”

“And the answer we got was purely economic – it is economy, economy, economy but that was the mortar for the new Wall.”

Mr Zelensky stressed that the future of the continent was at stake in the current war and argued that governments across the West were failing to meet the moment.

“Every year politicians repeat ‘never again’,” the Ukrainian leader said, referring to annual Holocaust commemorations.

“And now, we see that these words simply mean nothing. A people is being destroyed in Europe,” he said, noting that 108 children had been killed in his country since the start of the Russian offensive.

“Help us stop this war.”

Despite his blunt criticism, MPs gave Mr Zelensky another standing ovation after his 15-minute address. 

His virtual speech to the German Parliament came a day after a similar video address to the US Congress, where he renewed calls for a "no-fly" zone over Ukraine's skies to prevent Russia's air assaults.

During that speech, Mr Zelensky likened Russia's invasion of his country to the Sept 11, 2001 terror attacks in the US and the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941, which drew the US into World War II.

War to halve Germany's 2022 growth

Separately, German economic institute IfW said on Thursday that Russia's invasion of Ukraine will have a heavy impact on the German economy, with growth reaching just 2.1 per cent rather than the previously expected 4.0 per cent for 2022.

“Without the strong post-pandemic boost, German economic output would be in recession in the current year,” said IfW vice-president Stefan Kooths.

The war on the edge of the European Union will cost Germany some €90 billion (S$135 billion) in output for this and next year, said the IfW, the first to issue a forecast since Russia’s assault began on Feb 24.

“The Ukraine shock will delay the return to pre-coronavirus pandemic levels in the second half,” it said, adding that production capacities will not be fully utilised up to the end of the year as supply chains are broken and demand disrupted.

At the same time, Europe’s biggest economy will have to battle a sharp leap in consumer prices that could reach up to 5.8 per cent – a level not seen since German reunification.

Energy prices have leapt since the war broke out, forcing the first German companies to take drastic action like idling their plants while consumers are faced with hefty power bills.

Germany had warned of severe consequences on its economy as it joined allies in imposing unprecedented sanctions on Russia, including shutting key banks out of the SWIFT payment network and putting the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline on ice.

Numerous German multinationals including Volkswagen have also suspended their business in Russia.

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