On 7 June 2022, Angela Merkel gave a much-noticed interview at the Berliner Ensemble theatre.
The former chancellor, who avoided facing tough questions throughout her long 16-years in office, would now, ‘For the first time since her time as chancellor” be “faced with the challenging questions of our time.’
Just before Merkel appeared on stage, Spiegel journalist Alexander Osang, who led the interview, announced to the crowd, “She is still my chancellor”.
The tone of the interview was set.
Merkel defended her decisions in office, and offered no self-criticism. She said several times that she had ‘nothing to apologise” for her policies regarding Russia and Ukraine.
Merkel on Russia and Putin
She lamented Russia’s “brutal attack, which disregarded international law” on Ukraine as “a great tragedy.
But she does not regret establishing diplomatic relations with Putin, because she wanted to avoid disaster and strengthen diplomacy.
“I don’t have to blame myself for not trying hard enough. Diplomacy isn’t wrong just because it didn’t work”.
“That’s why I’m not going to apologize either.”, affirmed the former Chancellor.
She recounted for Putin “the collapse of the Soviet Union was the worst thing of the 20th century.”, and that she said to him: “You know, for me that was the lucky circumstance of my life: I was able to go to freedom and then do what I enjoy and gives pleasure.’ It was already clear that there was a great dissent.”
Merkel said she knew “how he (Putin) thinks”, and she “didn’t believe that Putin would be changed through trade,”. She also spoke of “Putin’s hatred” for democracy.
Merkel on Ukraine and NATO
Merkel justified her refusal in 2008 to offer Ukraine the preliminary stage of NATO membership because she wanted to prevent an “escalation”.
She also spoke about the failure to implement the Minsk Agreements.
“What I sometimes regret is that today hardly anyone is sticking to the 2014 agreement. There is hardly anyone who doesn’t say: ‘That was badly negotiated.’ But that gave Ukraine seven years to become what it is today.”
But she said Ukraine is a “geopolitical hostage” that Putin wants to use against the West.
A Poor Interview?
Osang’ interview with Merkel was criticized for being complacent, and failing to ask the former Chancellor the tough questions.
But could it have been otherwise? It is unlikely that Merkel would have accepted an interview with critical questions. It’s how Merkel ticks, and it’s part of how she managed to stay in power for 16 years.
Whether that served Germany well is another question.
Some commentators said the interview showed Merkel’s usual arrogance and refusal to recognize her mistakes.
But on Russia and Ukraine, she was managing a tough balancing act. She cannot be perceived as defending Putin. But as the Chancellor who is known to have never much liked Putin, she understood diplomacy was the best option, except for all the others, just as Churchill said of democracy.
Still, Merkel has plenty to answer for. Her more serious mistakes were at home, not abroad.
That is why Merkel talked much about Russia and Ukraine. Talking about her policies for Germany would have hurt.