Angela Merkel talks about Ukraine, Putin and his descendantsJune 7, 2022
In her first interview since she left office, the former German chancellor has refused to admit mistakes in her Russia policy and said she doesn’t blame herself for the current situation in Ukraine. The original German version is: In ihrem ersten
Former German Chancellor Angela Merkel defended her legacy on Ukraine in a wide-ranging interview on Tuesday.
In her first major interview since leaving office, Merkel condemned Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, but said she refused to apologize for her policies towards Moscow.
Speaking on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, she said: “In my view, what happened was not just unacceptable, but also a major mistake from Russia.”
“It’s an objective breach of all international laws and of everything that allows us in Europe to live in peace at all. If we start going back through the centuries and arguing over which bit of territory should belong to whom, then we will only have war. That’s not an option whatsoever.”
Merkel conceded that there could have been a harsher response to Russia’s 2014 annexation of Crimea, but said that serious steps had been taken. She cited Russia’s exclusion from the Group of Leading Industrial Nations (G8) and NATO’s stipulation that members spend 2% of GDP on defense.
Merkel also defended her opposition to Ukraine and Georgia joining NATO in 2008.
She said that if NATO had granted them membership, Russian President Vladimir Putin could have caused “enormous damage in Ukraine.” She also cited systemic corruption issues in Ukraine.
“President Zelenskyy is unbelievably bravely fighting against corruption, but at the time, Ukraine really was a country governed by oligarchs, and so there you can’t just say “ok tomorrow we’ll take them into NATO,” she said.
“I don’t have to reproach myself for not having tried hard enough,” Merkel responded to a question about how much she could have done to prevent an escalation with Russia. “Fortunately, I tried sufficiently. It is a great sadness that I did not succeed.”
How others see Merkel’s legacy on Russia
In April, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy hit out at Angela Merkel and former French President Nicolas Sarkozy, suggesting their move in 2008 to block Ukraine’s admission to NATO had been a clear “miscalculation” that emboldened Russia.
The Ukrainian president made his remarks after alleged human rights violations by Russian forces came to light in Bucha.
Merkel quickly released a statement saying that she “stands by her decisions in relation to the 2008 NATO summit in Bucharest.”
“In view of the atrocities uncovered in Bucha and other places in Ukraine, all efforts by the government and the international community to stand by Ukraine’s side and to bring an end to Russia’s barbarism and war against Ukraine have the former chancellor’s full support,” the statement continued.
Merkel’s government has also been criticized for steering Germany into its considerable dependency on Russian oil and gas. Yearslong construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline to carry Russian fuel directly to Germany was officially completed and ready to begin operation before it was put on indefinite hold by current Chancellor Olaf Scholz just days before Russian forces launched their assault in February.
But Germany’s “appeasement of Russia” runs through decades of German foreign policy. The clearest shift in stance came under former Chancellor Willy Brandt, a Social Democrat, whose 1969 “Ostpolitik” was reviled by conservatives. Successive West German and reunified German governments, including those headed by Merkel, then continued to pursue a policy of constructive cooperation.
While Merkel’s predecessor Gerhard Schröder has long been a close personal friend of Vladimir Putin, her own relationship with the Russian president was marked by ups and downs.
Merkel speaks fluent Russian, like many older adults who grew up in East Germany, a socialist country with close links to the Soviet Union. Putin, for his part, was based in East Germany as a KGB agent from 1985 to 1989 and speaks excellent German.
Relations between Moscow and the West took a steep plunge after the annexation of Crimea in 2014. However, Putin told German media that he still maintained a “businesslike relationship” with the former German chancellor.
“I trust her. She is a very open person. She, like anyone else, is subject to certain limitations, but she is honestly attempting to solve the crises,” he told the German tabloid Bild at the time.
Since the war began, there has been speculation in German media about whether Merkel might be able to mediate in the current crisis. So far, she has not given any indication of returning to the field of diplomacy.