But Merkel defended her decision in 2008 to oppose letting Ukraine and Georgia join NATO. She also said she did not regret brokering a 2015 peace deal between Moscow and Kyiv, which failed to end a conflict that erupted in eastern Ukraine after Russian-backed separatists took up arms.
“I tried to work toward calamity being averted, and diplomacy was not wrong if it doesn’t succeed,” Merkel said, according to the Associated Press. “… It is a matter of great sorrow that it didn’t succeed, but I don’t blame myself now for trying.”
The conservative leader’s foreign policy, which controversially included deepening economic relations with Moscow, has come under increased scrutiny since Putin started the war. In April, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky called out French and German opposition to Ukraine joining NATO, characterizing the position of Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy, then the president of France, as a “concession” that helped lead to the horrors of this year’s invasion.
Merkel’s successor, Olaf Scholz, has partially reversed course since the Feb. 24 invasion. He announced a major increase in defense spending and has moved to send heavy weapons to Ukraine. But Berlin has still been criticized for its energy policy toward Moscow, upon which it is reliant for natural gas.
On Wednesday, Zelensky adviser Mykhailo Podolyak also pushed back against Merkel’s remarks. In a tweet, he questioned her decision to proceed with the now-abandoned Nord Stream 2 pipeline that drew Berlin closer to Moscow, even as she claimed she was aware of Putin’s antipathy toward the West.
Merkel said that NATO membership would have damaged Ukraine and that Putin would have seen it as akin to a “declaration of war,” according to Deutsche Welle. Other observers have argued that the transatlantic alliance’s collective defense obligation would have deterred Putin from attacking a member state.
She also noted that Kyiv suffered from serious internal divisions and systemic corruption at that time, which would have made NATO accession challenging.
While Merkel admitted that the West could have imposed harsher sanctions after Putin annexed the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014, she also noted measures such as the suspension of Russia from the Group of Eight nations, an assembly of major economic powers.
The former chancellor was one of only a handful of female world leaders with whom Putin has dealt closely since he came to power more than…