Shock diplomacy: Ukrainian ambassador bids farewell to Berlin


Andrii Melnyk, Ukraine’s outgoing ambassador to Berlin, sometimes went too far. Like the time he told Chancellor Olaf Scholz to “stop being such a prima donna”. Or when he told a leftist politician to “shut the fuck up”.

But according to Melnyk, the end always justified the means. “I think I woke people up,” he told the Financial Times. “And I’m glad I did that, even if at times I had to do it in an undiplomatic way.”

Ask German officials what they think of Melnyk, who was recalled to Kyiv after serving seven years as ambassador, and the most common response is “nervousness– or “nerve-saw” – German for a royal pain in the neck.

It’s a reference to his almost constant firing at the German government over its Ukraine policy – a campaign he waged with complete disregard for diplomatic niceties. Melnyk’s interventions – on Twitter, on talk shows and through countless radio and print interviews – exploded like firecrackers in a crowded room, causing panic, consternation and, at times, fear.

He defends his shock-jock style. “You have to wake people up from their sweet slumber, from their lethargy – where they just say, ‘It’s okay, so what does this man want from us? Why is he provoking us?’” he said.

An expert in international law and human rights law and a fluent German speaker who first joined the Ukrainian diplomatic service in 1997, Melnyk was unknown to the general public until Russia launched its invasion in large scale of Ukraine on February 24. Then suddenly he was everywhere.

In a flurry of interventions on TV and social media, he pleaded with German leaders to help his beleaguered country, singled out their reluctance to provide heavy weapons and ruthlessly chastised them for their past naivety to trust Russian President Vladimir Putin.

In doing so, he became, in the words of Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, chairwoman of the Bundestag’s Defense Committee, “more of a politician than a diplomat — loud, clumsy and extremely quarrelsome.”

He crossed a lot of lines, she said, but that was understandable. “He was a vocal fighter for a country that is going through a terrible war,” she said.

It was for this reason that most German politicians were willing to ignore his occasional misjudgments, such as the time he told former leftist MP Fabio De Masi to “shut down your leftist gob” and called an academic who had suggested the demilitarization of Ukraine. “true ar**”.

His impertinence peaked in May after German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier was told he would not be welcome in Kyiv and Olaf Scholz said he would not travel to Ukraine for the insult. Melnyk then accused the Chancellor of acting like an “offended liverwurst” (German for a prima donna). Later, he apologized for the remark.

But in June, he went too far for even some of his most ardent fans. In an interview, he was asked about his attitude towards Stepan Bandera, the radical Ukrainian nationalist leader whose followers took part in the massacres of Jews and Poles during World War II. Melnyk appeared to question the historical record and refused to distance himself from Bandera. Poland and Israel were outraged and said so.

Looking back, he admitted he made a mistake. “I regret that my words may have hurt some people – it was not my intention,” he said.

Bandera, revered by some Ukrainians as an anti-Soviet freedom fighter, and reviled by others as an anti-Semite and a fascist, was a problem for “historians, not diplomats”. his role.

Although the gaffe cast a shadow over his reputation, Melnyk is proud of his accomplishments as ambassador – such as ensuring the issue of arms supplies to Ukraine ‘has always been at the forefront of public debate. and “at the top of the political agenda”.

But his legacy remains controversial. Many members of the German government sympathized with his view that Berlin should do more to support Ukraine. “But he did himself a disservice with the way he presented that argument,” an official said. “He ended up alienating a lot of people and making things awkward for Ukraine’s true friends in Germany.”

Meanwhile, Melnyk leaves behind many unfinished business. There are, he says, “still too many vestiges of the old policy”, too many German politicians who want to renew their “privileged relationship” with the Kremlin, who hope “that we can continue to supply gas from Russia because it is the basis of [Germany’s] economic success”.

“They just have to let go of those fantasies,” he said. It will now be up to his successor to “maintain the pressure on the Germans” and to ensure that they “do not let go of us”.

Melnyk was recalled to Kyiv shortly after the Bandera imbroglio and his future fate is unclear. Friends say he was offered the post of Deputy Foreign Minister, but he is reluctant to accept it.

He knows he’ll probably never get rid of his “nervous” reputation. But there was no alternative, he said, to speaking out.

“Can I really be quiet. . . even when I could see how bad things were and how blind the Germans were? ” he said. “What choice did I have? »

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