BERLIN -- Angela Merkel defends her approach to Russia and Ukraine during her 16-year tenure as Germany's leader. She said Tuesday that the 2015 peace agreement for eastern Ukraine, much criticised, had saved Kyiv valuable time and that she will not apologize for her diplomatic efforts.
Merkel made her first significant comments since leaving office six month ago. She stated that there was no excuse for Russia's "brutal attack" on Ukraine, and that it was "a huge mistake on Russia's behalf."
Merkel, who was in contact with Russian President Vladimir Putin during her chancellorship rejected the suggestion that she and others were engaged in appeasement that eventually led to the invasion.
In an interview onstage at Berlin's theater, she stated that she tried to prevent calamity and that diplomacy is not wrong if it fails. "I don’t see why I should now say that it was wrong, so I won’t apologize."
Merkel stated, "It's a matter of great regret that it didn’t succeed, but now I don't blame my self for trying."
She supported the 2015 peace accord that she and Francois Hollande, then French President, brokered in Minsk (Belarus) to ease fighting between Russian-backed separatists and government forces in eastern Ukraine.
Merkel acknowledged that it did not fulfill all Ukraine's needs and that very few people now stand behind it. Others, however, claim that it was poorly negotiated.
She said, "But it brought calm at the time and, for instance, it gave Ukraine a lot of time -- seven years specifically -- to develop into what is it today." She said that if there hadn't been an intervention, Putin could have done enormous damage to Ukraine.
She stated that Russia's annexation in 2014 of Crimea could have prompted stronger sanctions, but she added that there wasn't a majority support for such a move at the time.
She said that "We didn’t do nothing" and noted that Russia was expelled from the Group of Eight, and that NATO had set a goal for countries to spend 2% of their gross national product on defense.
In 2008, NATO promised that Ukraine and Georgia would become NATO members. French and German concerns over Russia's reaction hampered their hopes of receiving a "membership plan" that would allow them to join the alliance in five to ten years.
Merkel stated that Ukraine was not the country we know today, stating that it was divided and dominated oligarchs. She stated that "it wasn't an internal democratically stable country."
She suggested that a stronger NATO approval for Ukraine in 2008 would have made it more likely for Russia to attack Ukraine faster and Ukraine to resist less.
She said, "I was certain that Putin would not let it happen." "From his point of view, that was a declaration war to him. Although I don't agree with any of it, I understood his thoughts."
Merkel claimed that Putin invaded Ukraine while listening to the Nord Stream 2 gas pipe from Russia to Germany. This pipeline has been long defended by Merkel against criticisms from the U.S. and Ukraine.
The current Chancellor Olaf Scholz's government stopped the project in February.
His administration also decided that arms would be delivered to Ukraine.
Merkel stated that she opposed it when she was chancellor, because Germany and France were trying lead diplomacy.
She stated, "That's not on the agenda today -- it is a different time."
Follow AP's coverage of the Ukraine war at https://apnews.com/hub/russia-ukraine