Angela Merkel has been a political pensioner for six months. In her first major public appearance, Russia and Ukraine are the dominant theme – but not the only one.

Former Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) has vehemently defended Germany’s Russia policy during her 16-year tenure.

In Berlin, in her first major interview since leaving office, she declined to apologize for the course that many criticized as too lenient towards the leadership in Moscow. Merkel: «Diplomacy isn’t wrong if it doesn’t work. So I don’t see that I have to say now: That was wrong, and I won’t apologize for that either.”

In the Berliner Ensemble, Merkel took a position with great media interest in a conversation with the “Spiegel” reporter Alexander Osang. Osang had portrayed Merkel several times. It was mainly about Russia – but Merkel also gave insights into her life as Chancellor off duty.

Russia and the Ukraine War

Merkel sharply condemned the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine. “This is a brutal attack in violation of international law, for which there is no excuse.” The attack was a big mistake on the part of Russia.

It was not possible to create a security architecture that would have prevented the war, Merkel said. It was not possible to end the Cold War. For Russian President Vladimir Putin, the collapse of the Soviet Union was the worst thing of the 20th century – he said that to her several times. Merkel said she replied that it was lucky for her.

Merkel conceded that Russia’s 2014 annexation of Ukraine’s Black Sea peninsula of Crimea could have been met more harshly. However, one cannot say that nothing was done at the time. She referred to Russia’s exclusion from the group of leading industrial nations (G8) and NATO’s decision that every country should spend two percent of its gross domestic product on defense. She was not “naive” in dealing with Russia.

Merkel also defended that in 2008 she opposed the eastward expansion of NATO to include Ukraine and Georgia. If NATO had given the two countries accession prospects at the time, Putin could have done “enormous damage in Ukraine,” she said.

“I don’t have to blame myself for not trying enough,” Merkel said when asked to what extent she could help prevent an escalation with Russia. “Fortunately, I tried enough. It’s a great sadness that it didn’t work out.”

But Merkel made it clear that it was in Germany’s interest to find a “modus vivendi” with Russia – so that both countries could coexist. The former chancellor said she was not asked to mediate in the conflict. And: “I don’t have the impression that it’s of any use at the moment.” From their point of view, there is “little to discuss”.

armed forces

Merkel defended herself against the fact that the Bundeswehr was “rotten” during her tenure, as Osang said. The defense budget has increased since 2014. She also referred to her former coalition partner SPD. So she was not able to get Germany to buy an armed drone.

Merkel’s successor Olaf Scholz (SPD) spoke of a “turning point” after Russia’s attack on Ukraine, and the Bundestag has now approved a special pot for the Bundeswehr of 100 billion euros. Merkel pleaded for an increase in military deterrence against Russia. “It’s the only language Putin understands.”

The successor

Merkel made it clear that she had “complete trust” in the new federal government and her successor in office, Scholz. There are people at work who are not “newcomers” and who know the situation. Merkel was Chancellor from 2005 to the end of 2021. It was very clear to her that it was the right time to stop. Merkel had caused a stir when she took Scholz to an international summit during the coalition negotiations on the formation of a traffic light.

How is Merkel?

She is doing very well personally, but she is very concerned about the “break” of the Russian war against Ukraine, Merkel said. She is sometimes depressed. Merkel talked about long hikes in winter on the Baltic Sea, she had listened to many audio books. She didn’t get bored, she got through the days really well. She used to only have “appointments, appointments, appointments”.

Merkel said she didn’t want to give advice from the sidelines – whether the 9-euro ticket was good or not. «I am Chancellor a. D.”, said the 67-year-old. She is not a “normal citizen”. For 16 years, everything that was somehow relevant passed her table. She never shied away from responsibility. She said that she wanted to recover first and gain some distance.

She gets a lot of invitations, but doesn’t just want to work through appointments. If you read that you only do “feel-good appointments”, then you say: “Yes.”