BERLIN – Angela Merkel is not angry, she is just disappointed.
She always knew that Vladimir was a problem, but this? Barbaric.
It is not Germany’s fault, let alone its own. After all, no one could have foreseen this Disaster.
So unfolded Merkel’s unexpected return to the political scene this week after a six-month hiatus from the public eye. Sitting down for a 90-minute one-on-one chat with a German journalist, Merkel not only managed to absolve herself of any responsibility for the war in Ukraine, but did the same for the entire German nation.
“I won’t apologize,” she said when the subject of Ukraine came up, signaling that neither should her compatriots.
At a time when several of Germany’s eastern partners, from Poland to the Baltics, are urging Berlin to conduct an honest public examination of Germany’s role in paving the way for the Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Merkel’s defiant stance, given her unrivaled credibility in Germany, is intended to further complicate those relations.
When the 67-year-old retired Chancellor stepped out from behind the curtain to face a sold-out crowd on Tuesday, however, such considerations could not have been further from the spotlight.
Befitting the setting – a baroque revival performance hall in central Berlin that served as the artistic home of playwright Bertolt Brecht – it was political theater at its finest.
Decked out in one of her signature blazers and an amber necklace, Merkel appeared to be herself – until she started talking.
“I think I can accept this new phase in my life and be very happy,” said the ex-Chancellor, recounting how she had spent the months since leaving office reading “thick” books. to travel through Italy and stroll around. German Baltic coast beaches.
As innocuous as these details may seem to most politicians, they were the kind of personal details Merkel kept as state secrets when she was chancellor. The one feature of her private life that Merkel allowed her staff to pass on to desperate reporters trying to profile her was that she enjoyed cooking Pomeranian potato soup.
By that standard, Tuesday’s appearance was Merkel’s equivalent of “Keeping Up with the Kardashians.”
That said, the main goal of Merkel’s performance was not to share her feelings, but to set the record straight.
Since the start of the war in Ukraine, Merkel has faced intense criticism from abroad, including from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy, for what her critics say effectively amounted to sacrificing Ukraine to Russia to ensure peace. Germany’s access to cheap energy. After months of quietly taking swipes at these policies, Merkel decided it was time to defend her reputation.
Merkel’s Ukrainian criticism is rooted in two important decisions she made as chancellor: first, her decision to block Ukraine’s path to NATO in 2008; second, its pursuit of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline with Russia even after the country annexed Crimea in 2014 and fomented a separatist war in Donbass.
On the Berlin stage, Merkel defended the NATO decision, saying that if Germany had allowed Ukraine to join, as the United States advocated, Putin would have considered it a “declaration of war”. Moreover, she argued that Ukraine was an immature and corrupt democracy at the time and was under the control of oligarchs.
His reasoning was flawed on both counts.
To begin with, the issue on the agenda of the 2008 NATO summit in Bucharest was not Ukraine’s immediate membership but putting the country on the path to membership. Interim arrangements for its security within the alliance, such as the bilateral assurances the UK and others have given Finland and Sweden in recent weeks as they prepare to join NATO , could have been extended to Ukraine at the time.
And while Ukraine was hardly a bedrock of democracy in 2008, a clear prospect of membership could have helped solidify its democratic path, just as it did for another NATO member once in difficulty – West Germany. When Germany joined NATO in 1955, the country’s government administration was jam-packed with former Nazis and its military barely existed. Nevertheless, he was brought back to the fold.
Merkel also dismissed the idea that she had effectively abandoned Ukraine and encouraged Putin to test the West’s resolve by not taking a hard line on its aggression towards its neighbors. In fact, the former chancellor argued that she actually helped buy Ukraine time to prepare to defend itself by engaging Russia in a series of lengthy negotiations that culminated in the so-called Minsk agreements. , a fragile attempt at peace that neither side has ever taken seriously.
“Just because diplomacy doesn’t work in the end doesn’t mean it was bad to begin with,” she said.
His reasoning recalls a common defense of Neville Chamberlain, the British prime minister whose appeasement of Hitler as World War II approached made his name synonymous with a catastrophic miscalculation in foreign policy. Despite Chamberlain’s misjudgment of Hitler, his defenders claim, his course ultimately helped Britain by giving it more time to prepare for war.
Such reasoning is of little comfort to countries like Poland, which bore the brunt of Hitler’s wrath as a result of Chamberlain’s appeasement strategy.
While Merkel said on Tuesday that her “heart still beats for Ukraine”, her actions as chancellor tell a different story. If she had really wanted to help Ukraine prepare for the threat of a Russian attack, she and her coalition would have provided Kyiv with the weapons it needed. Instead, they refused.
Not that Merkel has any regrets about her handling of Ukraine or anything else.
“I’m doing very well personally,” she said with a smile at the start of her show, saying she had a “good conscience.”
Shocking as it may sound to some foreign ears, given the war, Merkel’s words have offered a balm to many Germans who regard her as a moral authority and miss her constant presence at the head of government.
Although Merkel is known for bristling at her image as the mother of the nation — a stern but reassuring presence looming in the background — she stuck around precisely because she rings true.
Responding to strong criticism of the current German government’s handling of the crisis in Ukraine, for example, Merkel said she had full confidence in her successor, Olaf Scholz.
“If I thought things were going in the wrong direction, there would be a lot of people I could call,” she told her audience. “I haven’t had to do that yet.”
If only there was someone to call about Merkel.