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Ex-Chancellor Merkel had no leverage with Putin as lame duck

November 24, 2022

Germany's ex-leader says she sought talks with Vladimir Putin on Ukraine near the end of her term, but the plans fell through due to her waning influence.

Uniformed guards behind German and Russian flags open large golden doors at the Kremlin in Moscow as then German Chancellor Angela Merkel enters
Merkel says she no longer had foreign policy clout after announcing her retirementImage: Mikhail Metzel/ITAR-TASS/imago images

Germany's former chancellor Angela Merkel has said that she sought talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin within the European Council in the summer of 2021, shortly before leaving office in September.

Merkel told the German weekly magazine Spiegel that she and French President Emmanuel Macron wanted to create a new European format for talks.

"But I no longer had the strength to push it through because, after all, everyone knew — 'she's leaving in autumn'," Merkel said in the interview.

Ukraine invasion not a surprise for Merkel

Merkel also said the new format was needed as the 2014 Minsk Agreement,  designed to resolve the conflict between Moscow and Kyiv, was no longer effective.

"The Minsk Agreement became empty. In the summer of 2021, after Presidents [Joe] Biden and Putin met, I wanted to set up an independent European discussion format with Putin," said Merkel.

Merkel said Putin's invasion of Ukraine just months later had come as no surprise to her.

Still, she admits having seen no point in attempting to influence Putin at the end of her chancellorship.

Referring to her last visit to the Kremlin in August 2021, Merkel said she recognized she no longer had clout with Russian counterpart: "The feeling was very clear: 'In terms of power politics, you're through.' For Putin, only power counts."

'Time for a new approach'

The conservative politician announced in 2018 that she intended to retire and not fight for another term as chancellor. She eventually handed over power to left-leaning Chancellor Olaf Scholz in December 2021 after 16 years in power. She is now retired and writing her political memoir.

Merkel on Putin, power, and her phonebook

Talking to the Spiegel, Merkel pointed to her lack of progress on foreign policy near the end of her tenure, including Ukraine, but "also Transnistria and Moldova, Georgia and Abkhazia, Syria and Libya." 

"It was time for a new approach,"  she said.

js/dj (AFP, EFE, Reuters)