BERLIN (Reuters) – Former German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Russia’s invasion of Ukraine marked a “deep rupture in Europe’s history following the end of the Cold War” even as her own legacy comes under fresh scrutiny in light of the assault.
Russian missiles rained down on Kyiv and other Ukrainian cities on Friday, the second day of an invasion that Ukraine says is aimed at overthrowing the government.
Merkel, who led Germany for 16 years until last December and was long seen as the West’s key interlocutor with Russian President Vladimir Putin, said she was following the unfolding events with “great worry and sympathy”.
The conservative stateswoman said in a statement she wholly supported all the efforts of her Social Democratic (SPD) successor Chancellor Olaf Scholz and Germany’s allies to hold Russia to account for its actions.
“There is no justification for this blatant breach of international law, and I wholeheartedly condemn it,” said Merkel, who grew up in the former communist East Germany and speaks fluent Russian.
Germany has joined its European Union partners and other Western countries in agreeing sweeping economic sanctions on Russia. But until this week it had been less inclined than the United States or Britain to accept that an attack on Ukraine was imminent and had backed a heavier focus on dialogue with Moscow.
Germany’s relatively doveish stance on Russia – which some experts attribute partly to its guilt over World War Two – has now prompted a broad reevalution of German-Russian ties under successive governments including those led by Merkel.
Merkel led the West’s imposition of sanctions on Russia in 2014 after its annexation of Crimea, marking a turning point in bilateral relations given Germany’s longstanding focus on engaging the Kremlin to ensure peace.
However Germany continued to increase its dependence on Russian energy throughout her mandate. It now relies on Russia for more than half its energy needs, constraining its ability to get tough with Putin.
Merkel also supported the Nord Stream 2 pipeline intended to deliver Russian gas directly to Germany bypassing Ukraine, the traditional transit route, calling it a “commercial project” even as Washington and others warned it would weaken Kyiv.
The project was broadly popular in Germany. Scholz, who was Merkel’s finance minister before becoming chancellor, and his three-way coalition also supported it until this week, when they put it on ice because of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Merkel’s former Economy and Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel of the SPD told German radio Deutschlandfunk this week that he had supported Nord Stream 2 because he believed such projects “carry a peace dividend”.
“The question for me and Merkel is whether we were too optimistic,” he said.
(Editing by Gareth Jones)