The Ukrainian ambassador Andriy Melnyk has sharply criticized ex-Chancellor Angela Merkel for justifying her Russia policy after 16 years in government. Unfortunately, in the first interview since the change of government six months ago, there was “not a hint of self-criticism,” said Melnyk. “The ex-Chancellor’s statements about the infallibility of her Russia course and her far too lenient treatment of dictator Putin are disconcerting.”
Merkel defended her course on Russia against the harsh criticism of recent months in a conversation with the journalist Alexander Osang in the Berliner Ensemble on Tuesday evening. “Well, I don’t see that I have to say now, that was wrong, and I won’t apologize for that,” she said.
Melnyk countered how it could be that Russia was able to start “the bloodiest war in Europe since 1945” when German Russia policy “was so great” in the last few decades. Putin was almost courted, and Berlin had always accommodated the Kremlin boss. Merkel’s current statements are “very regrettable,” said the ambassador. “Because without an honest, comprehensive review of Germany’s Russia policy, it is not at all possible to draw the right conclusions for the future relationship with Moscow and to stop its aggression.”
The Ukrainians are convinced that Germany’s position on NATO membership and Ukraine’s prospects of EU membership, the years of refusal to supply arms after the annexation of Crimea and the “reckless advancement” of the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline up to the war “encouraged Putin to to attack Ukraine”.
On Tuesday, for the first time, Merkel made a public statement on current political issues. She sharply condemned the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine. “This is a brutal attack that violates international law, for which there is no excuse,” Merkel said. The attack was a big mistake on the part of Russia.
It was not possible to create a security architecture that would have prevented the war, Merkel said. “What I naturally asked myself is: What might you have missed? Could more have been done to prevent such a tragedy – I already consider this situation to be a great tragedy? And that’s why you ask yourself, and of course I keep asking myself these questions.”
Merkel pointed out that Putin had already told her during her visit to Sochi in 2007 that for him the collapse of the Soviet Union was “the worst thing of the 20th century”. It was already very clear back then that “there is a great deal of dissent”. And ultimately it was never possible to “really end the Cold War”. Putin’s hatred, “Putin’s – yes, one has to say – hostility goes against the western democratic model,” Merkel said.
But diplomacy was not the wrong way. Merkel also defended that in 2008 she opposed the eastward expansion of NATO to include Ukraine and Georgia. If NATO had given the two countries the prospect of accession at the time, Russian President Vladimir Putin could have done “enormous damage in Ukraine” back then.
In addition, she wanted to make it clear to the SPD for years that Germany needed armed drones. “I’m glad we finally have one. That’s the only language Putin understands.”
The former Chancellor does not see herself as a mediator in the Ukraine war. When asked if she would call Putin, she says: “I don’t have the impression that it’s of any use at the moment.” There is “little to discuss in my opinion.”
For the first time since the end of her chancellorship, the ex-chancellor answered questions from a journalist. At the event organized by Aufbau Verlag and the Berliner Ensemble, Merkel was interviewed by “Spiegel” reporter Alexander Osang.
She has “complete trust” in the new federal government and her successor in office, Olaf Scholz (SPD). The transition of government went very well. There are people at work who are not “newcomers” and who know the situation. Merkel was chancellor for 16 years. It was very clear to her that it was the right time to stop. She also noticed that she wasn’t as willing to fight as she used to be.
She sees the leadership of the CDU by her former rival Friedrich Merz calmly. “That’s how it is then.” She wishes him “all the best” for the task and continues to be “very happy to be a CDU member”. Nobody has to “worry about my salvation”.
In the interview, Merkel also spoke about very personal things. For example, the public tremors that caused great concern in the final stages of her term. There were two reasons for this, she said: After her mother’s death, she was very exhausted. Also, she drank too little. Last but not least, with military honors, she was afraid that the tremors would occur again. That’s why she had a chair put on the pedestal at the ceremonies to take the national anthems while sitting.
When asked how she was doing, Merkel said she was doing very well personally. The “break” of the Russian war against Ukraine is also very much on her mind. She is sometimes depressed. Merkel talked about long hikes in winter on the Baltic Sea, she had heard many podcasts and audio books, including “Macbeth”. She didn’t get bored, she got through the days really well. She used to only have “appointments, appointments, appointments”. She is coping very well with her new phase of life. She is also writing a book with her longtime office manager Beate Baumann to come to terms with her life.
As former chancellor, she wanted to hold back with public statements. It’s not their job to give advice from the sidelines, for example whether the 9-euro ticket is good or not. She gets a lot of invitations, but doesn’t just want to work through appointments. When she reads that she only does “feel good appointments” now, she says, “yes.”
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