Former German Chancellor Angela Merkel said on Tuesday that she tried hard throughout her time in office to keep the situation in Ukraine from deteriorating to the point where it is now, but that she does not blame herself for failing to do so.
“That’s a tremendous shame it didn’t work out,” Merkel said of the 2014 Minsk accord with Russia. “But I don’t blame myself for not trying.” She made the remarks in an interview with German journalist and author Alexander Osang, which was shown on ARD.
Merkel, who led the West’s imposition of sanctions on Russia in 2014 after its annexation of Crimea, said the Minsk agreement had calmed the situation and gave Ukraine time to become what it is today.
“What would have happened if nobody cared in 2014 and Putin just continued? I don’t want to know that at all,” she added.
Merkel said there was no justification for Russia’s “brutal disregard of international law” in Ukraine, adding that she had been against a plan to let Ukraine into NATO because she wanted to prevent escalation with Russia and Ukraine was not ready.
“That wasn’t the Ukraine we know today … The country was not stable, it was riddled with corruption,” she said.
A fluent Russian-speaker after growing up in the former communist East Germany, Merkel drew criticism from the United States and others for supporting the planned Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, designed to deliver Russian gas directly to Germany.
The former chancellor defended her policy of supporting trade with Russia, saying Europe and Russia were neighbours that could not ignore each other.
She said she had grappled with questions about the former Soviet Union throughout her time in office but it was never possible to end the Cold War.
“We simply didn’t succeed in creating a security architecture to prevent that,” she added.
Merkel, a conservative, made a brief statement shortly after Russia’s invasion in February, but her silence since then has raised eyebrows.
In April, she was criticized for visiting Italy shortly after news of atrocities in Bucha, near Kyiv, rather than taking up an invitation to visit Ukraine.
“Invited to Bucha, driven to Florence”, mass-selling Bild newspaper titled a report on her visit.
In the hour-and-a-half interview, the 67-year-old Merkel said she knew the trip would be controversial but she wanted to make clear that she was no longer the Chancellor.