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Merkel 'stands by' 2008 NATO decision after Zelenskyy jab

April 4, 2022

The Ukrainian president hit out at Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy, blaming them for the current war and suggesting their 2008 stance against admitting Kyiv to NATO was a clear "miscalculation" that emboldened Russia.

Former German Chancellor Angela Merkel (l) and former French President Nicolas Sarkozy at the 2008 NATO summit in Bucharest, Romania
Angela Merkel (l) defended decisions made with Nicolas Sarkozy (r) at the 2008 NATO summit in referred to by ZelenskyyImage: Gerald Herbert/AP/picture alliance

Former and current German political leaders pushed back Monday against criticism leveled by Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy on Sunday.

Zelenskyy suggested his country was now suffering Russian aggression as a direct result of political decisions taken by then German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2008.

Zelenskyy called out both former leaders for reportedly blocking Ukraine's admission to the NATO military alliance during a summit that year in Bucharest, Romania.

Zelenskyy: 'Miscalculation' to keep Ukraine out of NATO in 2008

The Ukrainian president called the decision a "miscalculation," saying it cast a shadow over Merkel's 16-year legacy and noting that the US had been pushing for the alliance to admit Ukraine.

"I invite Ms. Merkel and Mr. Sarkozy to visit Bucha and see what the policy of concessions to Russia has led to in 14 years," referring to the site of recent alleged atrocities against Ukrainian civilians by Russian troops. The world has reacted with horror at the images of dead civilians littering the streets of Bucha, some with their hands bound behind their backs.

Ukraine's 2008 request was reportedly blocked by Sarkozy and Merkel, who determined it was too early for Ukraine to join the alliance given the very unstable political situation in the country at the time, among other factors.

As the NATO summit closed, a final communique promised Ukraine eventual membership though stopped short of actually offering a timeline or a concrete action plan for doing so.

Merkel stands by 2008 decision

Though Sarkozy's office has yet to respond to Zelenskyy, Merkel quickly released a statement saying that she, "stands by her decisions in relation to the 2008 NATO summit in Bucharest."

The statement continued, "In view of the atrocities uncovered in Bucha and other places in Ukraine, all efforts by the government and the international community to stand by Ukraine's side and to bring an end to Russia's barbarism and war against Ukraine have the former chancellor's full support."

Merkel, who left politics last year after serving four terms as chancellor, was widely seen as a stabilizing figure in Europe during her tenure but the war in Ukraine has also exposed potential flaws in her leadership with critics saying her policy of detente toward Moscow left Germany and Europe vulnerable.

Another major factor in that criticism is now becoming glaringly obvious, namely Germany's considerable dependency on Russian oil and gas to power its economy. In 2014, Germany imported 36% of its gas from Moscow but by the time Russia invaded neighboring Ukraine on February 24, it was importing 55%.

The situation has forced Germany into a corner with Berlin claiming it is unable to follow calls by the US and other allies to impose a full energy embargo on Moscow.

Despite outrage at Russia's aggression and the opprobrium directed at Berlin for its perceived foot dragging, German politicians remain loath to support a complete energy embargo.

Social Democratic (SPD) leader Lars Klingbeil, for instance, called the plan "the wrong path" for Germany.

Bavarian State Premier Markus Söder of the Christian Social Union (CSU) said an immediate ban on Russian energy would, "lead to a truly massive collapse of the German economy and a truly massive loss of jobs."  

Poland calls Germany 'biggest brake' on tough Russian line

Ukraine's Zelenskyy was not the only leader to lash out at Germany, Polish Prime Minister Mateusz Morawiecki also railed against Germany, calling it the "biggest brake" on further European Union sanctions on Russia.

Morawiecki urged Chancellor Olaf Scholz to join other EU states calling for an embargo on Russian energy imports, saying, "It is not the voices of German companies, of German billionaires" but rather, "the voice of these innocent women and children, the voice of those murdered, that should be heard by all Germans and by all German politicians."

Speaking in Warsaw, Morawiecki, too, went after Merkel — a long-time thorn in the side of Warsaw's far-right populist government — saying, "It is precisely Germany's policy over the past 10, 15 years that has led to Russia's strength today, which is based on its monopoly on the sale of raw materials."

Crimea: NATO won't intervene

Ukraine's ambassador attacks German president

But German chancellors past and present weren't the only top political figures under attack. In Sunday's edition of the Berlin daily Tageszeitung newspaper, Ukrainian Ambassador to Germany Andriy Melnyk repeated accusations that President Frank-Walter Steinmeier was too close to the Kremlin.

Melnyk claims Germany still has too many vested interests in Russia and blames the president in part for his role as Germany's former foreign minister, saying that for Steinmeier Germany's relationship with Russia, "was and remains something fundamental, even sacred."

"We reject the criticism of the president," said government spokesperson Wolfgang Büchner on Monday.

Ukraine's Deputy PM on Conflict Zone

Germany and Russia — from 'Ostpolitik' to Nord Stream 2 

Trying to pin German "appeasement of Russia" on Merkel ignores decades of foreign policy from Bonn and now Berlin. The clearest shift in stance came under SPD Chancellor Willy Brandt, whose 1969 "Ostpolitik" was reviled by conservatives. Successive West German and reunified German governments, including those of Merkel, have continued to pursue a policy of constructive cooperation that some argue has gone too far. 

Some might argue Merkel's predecessor Gerhard Schröder would be a better object of Ukrainian ire. It was after all Schröder — a close personal friend of Vladimir Putin who holds important posts at Russian energy and pipeline companies and who has been recently nominated to serve of the board of directors at the Russian state-owned gas giant Gazprom — who in late 2005, just weeks before leaving office, penned the first deal leading to the construction of the controversial Nord Stream 2 pipeline.

Construction of the roughly €10 billion project to carry Russian fuel directly to Germany, was officially completed and ready to begin operation before it was put on indefinite hold by Chancellor Olaf Scholz just days before Russian forces launched their most recent assault on Ukraine.

On Monday, the German government temporarily seized Gazprom Germania, the Berlin-based subsidiary of the Russian gas giant that would have run the pipeline. This followed Gazprom on Friday saying that it had cut all ties to the company, without saying whether it had been sold or who would take over.

Nordstream 2 is nearing completion but controversy remains

js/msh (AFP, dpa)