Merkel pledges support to Ukraine after Zelensky win

Volodymyr Zelensky. (AFP)
Updated 22 April 2019

Merkel pledges support to Ukraine after Zelensky win

  • Germany key broker in conflict between Kiev and Russia-backed separatists
  • The war in eastern Ukraine between government forces and rebels backed by Moscow has claimed some 13,000 lives

BERLIN: German Chancellor Angela Merkel has congratulated comedian Volodymyr Zelensky on his landslide victory in Ukraine’s presidential election, saying she hopes the vote will help stabilize the troubled country.

“I congratulate you on your election,” Merkel said.

“The stabilization of Ukraine and a peaceful conflict resolution are as close to my heart as the implementation of central reforms of the judiciary, decentralization and the fight against corruption,” her statement said.

“The Federal government will continue to actively assist Ukraine in its right to sovereignty and territorial integrity in the future.”

Merkel, who met incumbent Ukraine President Petro Poroshenko earlier this month in Berlin, added that she would welcome receiving Zelensky soon.

Germany has been a key broker in the conflict between Kiev and Russia-backed separatists in eastern Ukraine since Moscow annexed the Crimeapledgen peninsula in 2014, negotiating with France the now moribund Minsk peace accords.

The war in eastern Ukraine between government forces and rebels backed by Moscow has claimed some 13,000 lives and rumbles on despite a series of periodic truce deals.

The EU also has sanctions in force against Russia over its 2014 annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

Germany’s Foreign Minister Heiko Maas praised Poroshenko for his “great contribution to his country over the last five years” and echoed Merkel’s offer of support to Zelensky.

“Volodymyr Zelensky became known during the election campaign for further reforms and the fight against corruption,” said Maas in a statement.

“Germany will continue to stand at the side of Ukraine and offer support on this path.”

Ukrainians looked to the future with hope and anxiety after Zelensky took 73 percent of the vote, according to nearly complete official results.

The star of the sitcom “Servant of the People,” now in its third season, has vowed to stick to the pro-European course set out by his predecessor.

But he has also said he will try to improve ties with Russia.

On the streets of Kiev, many praised honest elections and a peaceful transfer of power after popular uprisings of 2004 and 2014.

“People showed that they want change,” said 28-year-old Karina.

“We had the most honest polls in the history of Ukraine,” she added, praising Poroshenko for conceding defeat soon after exit polls were published.

Zelensky presented a vague manifesto and one of his campaign slogans was, “No promises. No apologies.”

He shunned traditional campaign rallies, instead performing comedy gigs, and implied he would use the same unorthodox style to run the country of 45 million dependent on international aid.

It remained unclear Monday who would fill top positions, including the role of prime minister.

US President Donald Trump and French leader Emmanuel Macron called the political novice to congratulate him on his landslide win.

“Allow us to express our appreciation for the strong attachment to democracy and the rule of law that the people of Ukraine have demonstrated,” EU Council President Donald Tusk and European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker said in a joint letter to Zelensky.

Outgoing Poroshenko said he stood ready to help his successor, despite a bitter campaign.

Russia — which Kiev and the West accuse of fueling a smoldering separatist conflict in Ukraine’s industrial east — said it saw an opportunity with the new leader.

Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said there was “a chance” to improve ties.

“What’s needed for this? Honesty. And a pragmatic and responsible approach,” Medvedev wrote on Facebook.

There was no immediate comment from President Vladimir Putin.


UK’s Johnson to visit European capitals seeking Brexit breakthrough

Updated 18 August 2019

UK’s Johnson to visit European capitals seeking Brexit breakthrough

  • Johnson will travel for talks with German Chancellor Merkel and French President Macron
  • Johnson is expected to push for the EU to reopen negotiations over the terms of Brexit

LONDON: UK's Boris Johnson will visit European capitals this week on his first overseas trip as prime minister, as his government said Sunday it had ordered the scrapping of the decades-old law enforcing its EU membership.

Johnson will travel to Berlin on Wednesday for talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and on to Paris Thursday for discussions with French President Emmanuel Macron, Downing Street confirmed on Sunday, amid growing fears of a no-deal Brexit in two and a half months.

The meetings, ahead of a two-day G7 summit starting Saturday in the southern French resort of Biarritz, are his first diplomatic forays abroad since replacing predecessor Theresa May last month.

Johnson is expected to push for the EU to reopen negotiations over the terms of Brexit or warn that it faces the prospect of Britain's disorderly departure on October 31 -- the date it is due to leave.

European leaders have repeatedly rejected reopening an accord agreed by May last year but then rejected by British lawmakers on three occasions, despite Johnson's threats that the country will leave then without an agreement.

In an apparent show of intent, London announced Sunday that it had ordered the repeal of the European Communities Act, which took Britain into the forerunner to the EU 46 years ago and gives Brussels law supremacy.

The order, signed by Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay on Friday, is set to take effect on October 31.

"This is a landmark moment in taking back control of our laws from Brussels," Barclay said in a statement.

"This is a clear signal to the people of this country that there is no turning back -- we are leaving the EU as promised on October 31, whatever the circumstances -- delivering on the instructions given to us in 2016."

The moves come as Johnson faces increasing pressure to immediately recall MPs from their summer holidays so that parliament can debate Brexit.

More than 100 lawmakers, who are not due to return until September 3, have demanded in a letter that he reconvene the 650-seat House of Commons and let them sit permanently until October 31.

"Our country is on the brink of an economic crisis, as we career towards a no-deal Brexit," said the letter, signed by MPs and opposition party leaders who want to halt a no-deal departure.

"We face a national emergency, and parliament must be recalled now."

Parliament is set to break up again shortly after it returns, with the main parties holding their annual conferences during the September break.

Main opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn wants to call a vote of no confidence in Johnson's government after parliament returns.

He hopes to take over as a temporary prime minister, seek an extension to Britain's EU departure date to stop a no-deal Brexit, and then call a general election.

"What we need is a government that is prepared to negotiate with the European Union so we don't have a crash-out on the 31st," Corbyn said Saturday.

"This government clearly doesn't want to do that."

Britain could face food, fuel and medicine shortages and chaos at its ports in a no-deal Brexit, The Sunday Times newspaper reported, citing a leaked government planning document.

There would likely be some form of hard border imposed on the island of Ireland, the document implied.

Rather than worst-case scenarios, the leaked document, compiled this month by the Cabinet Office ministry, spells out the likely ramifications of a no-deal Brexit, the broadsheet claimed.

The document said logjams could affect fuel distribution, while up to 85 percent of trucks using the main ports to continental Europe might not be ready for French customs.

The availability of fresh food would be diminished and prices would go up, the newspaper said.