“I wanted to do something nice for her,” Putin told Bild in an exclusive interview. “When I found out that she doesn't like dogs, of course I apologized.”
Many in the West believed that Putin was using the dog as a power play to intimidate Merkel, who at the time had been in office less than two years.
But as time has worn on, it's become clear that if that was his aim, it hasn't worked, as the Chancellor has – with President Francois Hollande of France – become one of the leading voices in Europe's confrontation with Russia over its illegal military intervention in Ukraine and annexation of the Crimea.
That confrontation is something Putin rejects all responsibility for, saying that “I am exactly the same as I was before.”
“We didn't fight a war, didn't fire a shot, not a single person was killed,” in the run-up to the February 2014 referendum in the Crimea, Putin claimed.
The referendum, widely criticized in the West as undemocratic and illegitimate, gave the people of the Crimean peninsula a vote on whether to remain part of Ukraine or become part of Russia. It turned up a 96.7 percent vote in favour of joining Russia.
But Putin went on to add that “for me, borders and the territories of states aren't important – rather, the fate of human beings.”
“Napoleon once said that justice is the incarnation of God on the Earth. I say to you: the reunification of the Crimea with Russia is just,” Putin continued.
He argues that “misguided” sanctions imposed by the US and European Union after the annexation are not aimed at helping Ukraine, but at “repressing Russia”.
Today, Putin says, he has a “businesslike” relationship with Merkel.
“I trust her, she's a very open person. She is also subject to certain pressures and limitations. But she is making an honest effort to resolve the crises, also in south-west Ukraine.”
But he claims that the Europeans have failed to live up to their side of the Minsk Agreement that was supposed to lead to negotiations between the Ukrainian government and pro-Russian rebels.
“The mutual sympathy of our peoples is and remains the basis of our relationship,” he said.
“Even with anti-Russian propaganda, the mass media in Germany haven't managed to damage this sympathy…”
Let's fight terror together
Putin also told Bild that he wants to work with the rest of the world to fight terrorism – a platform he's been pushing ever since terrorist attacks in Paris last November put Isis higher on the international agenda than Ukraine.
“Globally, [Russia and the West] should stand much closer together in the battle against terror, which is a huge challenge,” he said.
“If we're also not agreed every time and on every point, no-one should use that as a pretext to declare us to be enemies.”