For six months, ex-Chancellor Angela Merkel had almost completely disappeared from the scene. Now she’s back – and defending her Russia policy. She does not want to mediate in the conflict.
Former Chancellor Angela Merkel (CDU) has vehemently defended her Russia policy during her 16 years as head of government. In her first major interview since leaving office, she declined an apology for the course criticized by many as too lenient towards Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday evening in Berlin. “Well, I don’t see that I have to say now: That was wrong, and I won’t apologize for that either.”
On December 8, Merkel handed over her official duties to the SPD politician Olaf Scholz and then largely disappeared. Almost exactly half a year later, she is now returning to public stages. Last week, she gave the eulogy in front of more than 200 guests when the long-time DGB boss Reiner Hoffmann said goodbye. On Tuesday evening she was questioned for almost 100 minutes by the journalist Alexander Osang in the Berliner Ensemble, the Brecht Theater at Friedrichstrasse station.
Angela Merkel: “Personally, I’m doing very well today”
And? how is she now As a citizen Angela Merkel? “Today I’m doing very well personally,” says the 67-year-old, who has spent the last few months walking on the Baltic Sea, reading and listening to books and vacationing in Italy.
Sounds good if it weren’t for what Merkel calls “a turning point” and others “a turning point”. “Of course I remain a political person and that’s why I’m sometimes depressed these days, like many, many others.” What is meant is the Russian war of aggression against Ukraine, which Russian President Vladimir Putin has instigated. Germany’s Russia policy over the past two decades, which Merkel played a key role in, is in tatters.
Merkel stands by her Russia course: she was not “blue-eyed”.
Unlike Federal President Frank-Walter Steinmeier, who publicly acknowledged mistakes at the beginning of April, Merkel stands by her course. To what extent did it help prevent an escalation with Russia? “Fortunately, I tried enough. It’s a great sadness that it didn’t work,” she says.
The annexation of the Ukrainian Black Sea peninsula of Crimea by Russia could have been met more harshly in 2014. 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 says.
Merkel does not want to call Putin
Merkel complains that after the fall of the Berlin Wall, it was not possible to create a security architecture that could have prevented the current escalation. “In all these years it has not been possible to really end the Cold War.”
The former Chancellor does not see herself as a mediator in the Ukraine war. When asked if she would phone Putin, she said: “I don’t have the impression that it’s going to be of any use at the moment.” There is “little to discuss from my point of view”.
Despite the war and the differences, Merkel can still joke about past encounters with Putin. For example, about the memorable meeting in the Black Sea resort of Sochi in 2007, when Putin visibly frightened the chancellor with his black labrador dog. “A brave chancellor has to deal with a dog like that,” says Merkel today.
Not a bad word about Olaf Scholz: “full confidence” in the new government
Merkel never says a bad word about her successor – at least not directly. She says she has “complete trust” in the new federal government and in Olaf Scholz. There are people at work who are not “newcomers” and who know the situation. And in case things don’t go that way, she still has her leverage. “If something were to happen now (…) where I say it’s going in the completely wrong direction, then I can call a lot of people. But I haven’t had to do that yet.”
But what goes against the grain of the chancellor is that she is now being blamed for the fact that the Bundeswehr is so run down. The defense budget has increased since 2014, she says. And she blames the SPD for not wanting to buy armed drones for a long time.
Don’t get involved in politics, just relax and distance yourself
In the interview, Merkel also talks about very personal things. For example, the public tremors that caused great concern in the final stages of her term. There were two reasons for this, she says: After the death of her mother, she was very exhausted. In addition, she drank too little. Last but not least, with military honors, she was afraid that the tremors would occur again. That’s why she had a chair put on the pedestal at the ceremonies to take the national anthems while sitting.
Merkel no longer wants to get really involved in politics. “It’s not my job to make comments from the sidelines now,” she says. She is “Federal Chancellor a.D.” and not a “normal citizen”. For 16 years, everything that was somehow relevant passed her table. Now she wants to relax and gain some distance.
She gets a lot of invitations, but doesn’t just want to work through appointments. When she reads that she only does “feel good appointments” now, she says, “Yes.”