Germany questions Angela Merkel’s responsibility for aggressive escalation of Vladimir Putin

To analyse. Angela Merkel is back. Three months after her departure from power, the former Chancellor finds herself at the heart of public debate in Germany. The reason: the war in Ukraine, which is leading to a severe re-examination of its policy towards Russia, including within its political family.

The first to sound the charge was Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer. “After Georgia [en 2008] then Crimea and Donbass [en 2014]we did nothing to really deter Putin”, tweeted the former Minister of Defense (2019-2021), on February 24, a few hours after the start of the Russian offensive in Ukraine. Evoking a “historical error”the former designated runner-up to Mme Merkel did not specifically implicate her former boss, but the allusion was transparent.

Since then, other conservative leaders have followed suit. Like Friedrich Merz, the president of the Christian Democratic Union who, on 27 February before the Bundestag, described as “field of ruins the foreign and security policy conducted by Germany and Europe in recent years”. He too did not need to quote Angela Merkel for us to understand who was, according to him, primarily responsible for this bitter failure.

Original sin

What exactly is the ex-chancellor accused of? The titles of two lengthy investigations that recently appeared in the German press sum things up pretty well: “War in Ukraine: Putin’s guilt and Merkel’s contribution” (Suddeutsche ZeitungMarch 18) and “Merkel’s Lax Russian Policy as a Legacy: A Little Boycott but Nothing More” (Der SpiegelMarch 19).

For some, the original sin dates back to the NATO summit in Bucharest in April 2008. By speaking out against the accession of Ukraine and Georgia to the Atlantic Alliance, a position also shared by French President Nicolas Sarkozy , Angela Merkel would have whetted the expansionist appetites of Vladimir Putin. Four months later, Russia attacked Georgia. “The postponement of the date of accession [de la Géorgie à l’OTAN] strengthened Russia’s resolve to take action.”denounced, at the time, the Czech Foreign Minister Karel Schwarzenberg, in the Spiegel. “Appeasement is not an alternative”he added, without then imagining that the same reproach would then be made several times about Angela Merkel’s policy vis-à-vis Moscow.

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This was particularly the case in 2014-2015, after the annexation of Crimea by Russia and the start of the war in Donbass, in eastern Ukraine. Admittedly, Germany was one of the countries at the time that pushed for the European Union to impose sanctions on Russia. Similarly, Angela Merkel became actively involved, alongside François Hollande, in trying to find a way out of the conflict in the Donbass: this was the “Normandy format”, the name given to the quartet Russia, Ukraine, Germany, France, formed in margin of 70and anniversary of the Landings, in June 2014, and which led to the Minsk agreements, in February 2015.

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