Angela Merkel said that she was too politically weak to stand up to Putin at their last meeting.
The former German chancellor handed over power at a crucial time in the build-up to Russia’s war.
“For Putin, only power counts,” she told German outlet Der Spiegel.
Former German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she was unable to influence Russia’s President Vladimir Putin ahead of his invasion of Ukraine because of her own waning power.
In a wide-ranging interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel, the former leader said she had no sway with Putin in the closing days of her leadership, which ended in December 2021.
“The feeling was very clear: ‘In terms of power politics, you are through,'” she told the magazine. “For Putin, only power counts.”
In her Der Spiegel interview, Merkel said she had wanted to develop talks between Putin, herself, and French President Emmanuel Macron in the summer of 2021 when signs were emerging that Putin could strike against Ukraine.
But, she said, when she suggested the talks to other European leaders: “Some people objected, and I no longer had the strength to assert myself because everyone knew that I will be gone by the fall.”
When she asked others to step forward instead, they appeared reluctant, she said.
“One said: ‘That’s too big for me,’ another person just shrugged their shoulders,” she said. She suggested that if she had been campaigning for re-election she “would have drilled further.”
By August, Merkel set up farewell visits to Kyiv and Moscow. In Moscow, she said, “The feeling was very clear: ‘In terms of power politics, you are through.'”
She said she was not the right person to take action. “Someone new had to do it. Domestically, it was overripe,” she told the magazine. “And in terms of foreign policy, in the end, I hadn’t gotten a millimeter further, even with so many things we tried again and again.”
A crucial time in world politics
Merkel, who served as chancellor for 16 years, was long considered the de facto leader of the EU and a symbol of Western stability.
She handed over power at what turned out to be a crucial period, and just before Germany would undertake a remarkable about-turn in its energy policy. As of the invasion, Germany still intended to go ahead with its Nord Stream 2 pipeline deal with Russia, which it has since abandoned.
Merkel left office in December 2021, and Putin’s invasion began on February 24, 2022. Putin massed his forces along Ukraine’s border in the weeks when Merkel was serving as a caretaker leader while her successor, Olaf Scholz, formed an electoral coalition to replace her administration.
The war, Merkel said, “didn’t come as a surprise.”
Her remarks come soon after former UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson criticized the position of several European countries ahead of the war, including Germany.
He told CNN Portugal: “The German view was at one stage that if it were going to happen, which would be a disaster, then it would be better for the whole thing to be over quickly, and for Ukraine to fold.”
A spokesperson for Germany’s government hotly denied that characterization on Wednesday, saying it was “utter nonsense.”
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