by Stephan Richter*
It is worth remembering the promises made explicitly and implicitly by Angela Merkel when she rose to the position of Federal Chancellor of Germany in 2005.
She very consciously offered a down-to-earth style, combining honesty and modesty. She wanted to be a different type of politician compared to the usual brand of what was often perceived as the arrogance and high-handedness of “Wessi” politicians.
Judging by her first public substantive appearance on June 8, 2022, those earlier promises have given way to a form of arrogance and detachment that can only be properly compared to the arrogance and detachment of late 19th century royals.
It didn’t help that the interview that was conducted in such an embarrassingly softball, if not fawning, form. Considering that the interviewer was a reporter from “Der Spiegel”, his performance effectively tarnished the brand of the supposedly hard-hitting magazine.
As to imperial arrogance: No, Mrs. Merkel didn’t see anything wrong with her performance on Russia, Putin, the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and Ukraine.
Comparing Merkel to Steinmeier
In that same context of policy failures, it is revealing to compare Merkel’s stance to that of the generally equally arrogant Frank-Walter Steinmeier, her former foreign minister and today the President of the Federal Republic of Germany.
At least Steinmeier eventually moved to an “mistakes were made” narrative, “including by me”. That is still far from an apology, but at least reflects the acceptance of some responsibility.
Cowed by Putin
What is also becoming ever clearer in hindsight is how much Merkel – who supposedly had a special relationship with the Russian President – was cowed by him.
In that context, it is worth reflecting on Putin playing “dog games” with her. Merkel, who apparently is somewhat afraid of dogs, was surprised by Putin at an early occasion by letting his dog roam freely around Merkel.
From Putin’s mindset, it was an act of intimidation – better yet, the intimidation of a woman. Putin, the pseudo-macho, hates powerful women. Merkel let herself be schooled by him.
To this day, that is an embarrassment for Merkel.
Schroder’s aide de camp
In the Russia context, the most embarrassing thing to be said about the former Chancellor is that, properly understood, her action on the gas pipeline has to be judged as much worse than that of her predecessor Gerhard Schroder.
Yes, the latter acted and acts as a lobbyist for Russian business interests. As distasteful as that is for a former German Chancellor, Schroder was no longer in office when he became a total supplicant to Putin.
In contrast, Merkel was in office and serving as German Chancellor when she acted on the Nord Stream 2 issue in a manner that made her effectively the aide-de-camp to Schroder’s efforts to serve Russian energy interests.
For all the justified criticism of Gerhard Schroder, the considerably worse (because in-office) performance of Angela Merkel still has not received the proper level of attention.
Merkel selling out Ukraine
Mrs. Merkel herself has often acknowledged how blessed she felt, because of the unexpected opening of the wall in November 1989, that she could live in freedom.
But in the former German Chancellor’s mind, that is apparently a gift and a blessing not granted to nations that find themselves in a pickle today. Ukraine – and especially its younger generation – very much needed and needs the West’s help. It showed courage and determination to clean up the Ukrainian government well before the outbreak of the war.
And yet, to justify her time and again singing Putin’s tune, Merkel now rhapsodizes about Ukraine as an unfinished nation.
Germany’s first woman Chancellor evidently is convinced that German unification represented the (in)famous “end of history”. Meaning that following that unification the transformation of European history had been fully accomplished.
Merkel now justifies not standing by Ukraine’s earlier desire to join NATO by saying it was ruled by oligarchs and that the country was corrupt. That was a failure in strategic thinking: She should have had the courage, as a liberated East German, to take a risk and stand by Ukraine.
Instead, she was effectively the driving force for funneling ever more money via the strategically pig-headed energy deals to finance the build-up of the Russian war machine.
It is the “fruits” of that military build-up, paid for to a considerable extent by Germany for energy, which now rain down over the heads of Ukrainians.
Merkel’s twin brother
It is amazing to observe in general how much – in terms of aloofness, detachment and arrogance – she and her successor Olaf Scholz act like twins, siblings from the same 19th century imperial household.
That also applies to the Ukraine issue very directly. Mr. Scholz promises all sorts of things and declares Germany to be a key leader in supporting the embattled country.
It isn’t just inside Ukraine, but increasingly across much of Europe (as well as inside Germany) that the current German Chancellor is considered as very parsimonious with the truth but increasingly as an outright liar.
Putin and Merkel
Merkel clearly knew what Putin has been up to for years. Everyone says now that Putin has been planning this invasion in Ukraine for years, just waiting for the “right” time. The CIA suspected it, the East Europeans knew it, the BND had to have known it, so she knew it, too.
Her hesitation, if not denial of reality, may reflect a reflex related to having grown up as an “Ossie” – suppressing and denying what one sees and what is quite undeniable.
As a woman leader in her right mind, she should not have taken Putin’s abuse directed at her personally. Everyone knows he hates women who have power – even if it is women who are AWACS plane pilots.
More often than not, Angela Merkel acted like a blushing schoolgirl around Putin. As it happens, the Russian President is known to be able to be charming (just as was – unbelievably – Adolf Hitler).
Merkel’s penchant for being wooed was also clear in her relationship with Barack Obama – around whom she also acted like a blushing schoolgirl.
When Merkel was shocked to find out that the NSA had tapped her phone, with the benefit of hindsight that cannot represent a big surprise! Her wobbly record vis-a-vis Putin at leas gives probable cause…
Women in power: Angela Merkel and Hillary Clinton
Hillary Clinton said at a recent event that Putin hates to be criticized, especially by a woman. Putin also hates the United States – and he hated Hillary Clinton because she would not stand for what Merkel just continued to swallow.
A prime rule of politics and life is this: Let yourself be bullied and the bully goes further. There is no denying that Angela Merkel let herself be bullied by Putin.
Putin, women and dogs
Is it too much of a stretch of imagination in the light of all the considerations presented above to connect Putin’s “dog diplomacy” with his Russian soldiers’ raping of Ukrainian women – the ultimate abuse?
To be sure, in Russia those actions not only meet with impunity, but with the tacit approval of the Kremlin.
Conclusion: Two Big Sins
History will judge former German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s dealings with Russia harshly for two big sins she committed – one sin of commission and one sin of omission.
Her sin of commission was utter strategic blindness in dealing with Putin. She pleased him and his kleptocratic regime by making Germany even more dependent on Russian gas and funding the Russian war machine.
At best, that was the act of an amateur – if one isn’t to assume darker motives on her part.
The second big sin is one of omission: Having put Germany into that treacherous spot of high dependence on a corrupt and murderous regime, the Protestant minister’s daughter – upon leaving office – studiously avoiding acknowledging any responsibility for any of her actions on the gas deals, Ukraine or Russia.
In other words, her moral core is evidently far removed of that traditionally assumed for people who were raised in Protestant households.
Instead, the emptiness of Merkel’s moral core displays all the moral fiber that is so characteristic of East German apparatchiks of a bygone era.
This is a level of nonchalance that her CDU party cannot much longer condone. As long as that day of reckoning with her record gets postponed, Merkel’s — in a Protestant context – sinful malperformance on Putin, Russia, Ukraine and gas deliveries taints the party, not just Frau Merkel.
*Director of the Global Ideas Center, a global network of authors and analysts, and Editor-in-Chief of The Globalist
**first published in: www.theglobalist.com