Ex-Chancellor: Why Angela Merkel could not defend herself against Putin

A year ago, Angela Merkel resigned as chancellor. When the Ukraine war broke out, it changed a lot for her too.

A year ago, Angela Merkel stunned everyone again. For days, the selection of the songs that were played on December 2, 2021 in the Bendlerblock when she said goodbye was talked about. “You forgot the color film” by Nina Hagen and “For me it should rain red roses” by Hildegard Knef were two of the songs that the Republic discussed.

The one that had something to do with her past, her growing up in the GDR, the other song, the Knef lines mean something like: I have no regrets and look courageously into the future. “It should rain red roses for me. I should encounter completely new miracles. Unfold myself far from the old. Keep the most of what is expected,” it says.

Angela Merkel is actually being criticized by everyone right now

But at the moment hardly anyone can spare her from “developing in a new way far from the old”, not looking back. Not even party comrades and closest companions of her 30-year political career in the CDU, 16 of which as Chancellor. Multiple Federal Minister and most recently President of the German Bundestag Wolfgang Schäuble In an interview with the “Handelsblatt”, she was not one of the great federal chancellors, that was for him Konrad Adenauer, Willy Brandt and Helmut Kohl. This list is “complete for the time being,” said Schäuble.

“Whether Mrs. Merkel will be classified as one of the great chancellors is perhaps too early to make a conclusive assessment.” Schäuble described it as remarkable that the former chancellor “can’t say that we made mistakes even now with regard to Russia have made”. The CDU foreign policy expert Roderich Kiesewetter also made similar statements and supported Schäuble with his criticism: one can only learn from them if one admits mistakes.

Ukraine Crisis – The most important news about the war

Initially, Merkel was alone on the Baltic Sea for five weeks after her resignation

Merkel’s departure from the Chancellery had started so well. After the federal election, she escorted Olaf Scholz out of the Chancellery for the last time on December 8, 2021, then drove away in a limousine. She first spent five weeks on the Baltic Sea, all alone, reading and listening to audio books. Shakespeare’s Macbeth and Schiller’s Don Carlos: “In full length”, as she said at her first major performance in the summer after retiring from the Berliner Ensemble.

“Of course, I imagined the time after my term differently,” she said at the time. February 24, 2022, the outbreak of the Ukraine war, was a turning point for her. “Like a lot of people, I’m depressed about it,” she admitted.

Sharp criticism of Angela Merkel and her Russia policy

But Angela Merkel is now also facing criticism abroad: the Italian newspaper Corriere della Serra commented that the former chancellor had become “the petrified dinner guest of a collective self-analysis” in Germany that affected her directly. “Everyone who has had political responsibility in the past 20 years is asking important questions and admitting to fatal mistakes.” Only Angela Merkel is silent.

Also in the new one Movie “Merkel – Power of Freedom” one hears critical tones. The documentary film looks benevolently at the 16 years of chancellorship and Merkel’s career there, but does not leave out the relationship with Putin and the economic dependency on Russia.

Ukraine war – background and explanations for the conflict

Hilary Clinton hands out against Merkel

Hilary Clinton, former US Secretary of State in the Obama era, remarks in the film: “Angela Merkel could have tried to free the German economy from this dependence. Because it’s actually the only leverage Putin has over Europe.” Clinton said there had been indications that Putin would use this leverage against Ukraine and that he would manipulate energy supplies to Eastern Europe. “There were indications that energy is his weapon. But every head of government wishes afterwards that he could have done this or that differently.”

In almost every one of Merkel’s few public appearances in the past year, she was asked about her Russia policy – and Angela Merkel does not give the answers that many want to hear from her. She doesn’t admit to mistakes like the former foreign minister and current Federal President Frank Walter Steinmeier. As early as April of this year, he said: “I was wrong” and that the federal government had stuck to bridges “that our partners warned us about”.

Merkel: “I no longer had the strength to assert myself”

Angela Merkel gave the “Spiegel” a look back, she just said there: “I would have wished for a more peaceful time after my departure, because I’ve been busy with Ukraine a lot,” said the former chancellor. But Russia’s attack on Ukraine did not come as a surprise to them. “The Minsk agreement was hollowed out. In the summer of 2021, after Presidents Biden and Putin had met, I wanted to establish an independent European discussion format with Putin again with Emmanuel Macron in the EU Council. There were objections from some, and I no longer had the strength to assert myself because everyone knew: It will be gone in the fall.”

In the EU Council, she asked others in the Council to also get involved. But the overall reaction was too weak and lacking in energy. In the fall of 2021, Angela Merkel was a classic “lame duck”, as the US political system describes a president or politician who is still in office but is not standing for re-election. Above all, he or she is considered politically incapable of acting.

Putin made Merkel feel: “You’re through in terms of power politics”

Merkel felt that too, recalling her last visit to Putin in August 2021: “If I had started again in September, I would have drilled further. It was the same on my farewell visit to Moscow. The feeling was very clear: in terms of power politics you are through. Only power counts for Putin. He also brought Lavrov with him to this last visit, otherwise we often met in private,” Merkel told Der Spiegel. At least these sentences are an explanation, an admission of weakness at the end of their term.

Today, a year after her resignation, does she regret not having competed? Her answer: a resounding “no”. “Someone new had to do it. Domestically, it was overripe. 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. Not only as far as Ukraine is concerned. Transnistria and Moldova, Georgia and Abkhazia, Syria and Libya. It was time for a new approach.”

Merkel’s Bundestag office: too many employees, too much travel

But last year, the Russia question was not Merkel’s only problem. The lavish equipment of nine employees in their office near the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin was criticized in a report by the Ministry of Finance to the Budget Committee of the Bundestag. Finally, there are said to have been talks between the Chancellery and its office management. Greater spending discipline was called for by the former chancellor. Travel expenses would only be reimbursed if you travel on behalf of and in the interests of the Federal Republic of Germany, it was said at the time.

Several offices are available to Merkel in the Bundestag, and she took with her from the Chancellery the picture of Konrad Adenauer painted by Oskar Kokoschka, on loan from the Bundestag. Her former office manager, Beate Baumann, also went with her in the function of press officer. Both met in 1992 on the recommendation of Christian Wulff, today they are writing a book together about Merkel’s years as chancellor.

In it, Merkel will dive back into the years that are now behind her and that she will not let go of. The book should be finished by the end of 2023 and appear in 2024, she told him “Star”. A publisher has already been found, a GbR founded, the teamBook. The “M” stands for Merkel, the “B” for Baumann. However, the book will only be written in my free time. Even if it’s about 16 years of your government. Decisions should be made comprehensible, politics should be explained.

Angela Merkel is currently in a “pupation stage”

About her current life, Merkel said: “I’m in a pupation stage right now. You will go through different phases. The first phase is to get away from day-to-day politics. Writing a book brings a new phase.” However, the book should not be a heroic story, it is purely about the past. Because: “The best thing about writing is that nothing is added. It is a closed matter.”

This article first appeared on morgenpost.de.

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