FRANKFURT (AFP) – Former German chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday (June 7) defended her policy of detente towards Moscow while in office, saying she had “nothing to apologise for” even as the Ukraine war casts a pall on her legacy.
In her first major interview since stepping down six months ago, Merkel insisted she had not been naive in her dealings with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Diplomacy isn’t wrong just because it hasn’t worked,” the 67-year-old said on stage in a Berlin theatre, in an interview broadcast on the Phoenix news channel.
She recalled her support for economic sanctions on Russia following its annexation of Crimea in 2014, and the German-French effort to keep the Minsk peace process for Ukraine alive.
“I don’t have to blame myself for not trying hard enough,” she said.
“I don’t see that I have to say ‘that was wrong’ and that’s why I have nothing to apologise for.”
The veteran leader, who frequently met with Putin during her four terms and championed a commerce-driven, pragmatic approach towards Moscow that left Germany heavily reliant on Russian energy imports, said the Feb 24 invasion of Ukraine had marked a “turning point”.
‘All our differences’
There is “no justification whatsoever” for the “brutal” and illegal war of aggression, she said, adding that Putin had made “a big mistake”.
But she batted away criticism that it had been a mistake to block Ukraine from joining Nato in 2008.
The country at the time unready, Merkel said, and she wanted to avoid “further escalation” with Putin who was already seething about the military alliance’s perceived eastward expansion.
She also insisted that the 2014-2015 Minsk peace pact, which now lies in tatters, was at the time seen as the best bet to end the fighting in eastern Ukraine between pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian soldiers.
While never fully successful, the peace process “brought some calm” that gave Ukraine an extra seven years to develop as a nation and strengthen its military, she said, in a nod to Kyiv’s much praised resistance against the invading Russian troops.
“The courage and passion with which they are fighting for their country is very impressive,” Merkel said, adding that she had “the highest respect” for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.
But she insisted there was no way to avoid dealing with Putin, because Russia, much like China, was simply too big to ignore.
“We have to find a way to co-exist despite all our differences,” she said.