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UKRAINE

Clouds over Merkel’s legacy as Russian invasion lays flaws bare

Up to the final hours before Russia began its invasion of Ukraine, former chancellor Angela Merkel had been touted as the person favoured by Germans to try to talk President Vladimir Putin out of the conflict.

Clouds over Merkel's legacy as Russian invasion lays flaws bare
Former German chancellor Angela Merkel addresses chancellery workers and her successor Olaf Scholz (not in picture) as she handed over the office to Scholz in Berlin on December 8th, 2021. Photo by John MACDOUGALL / AFP)

But as Russian bombs fell on Ukrainian cities, a shadow has fallen on Merkel’s 16 years in office, with some observers now questioning if her detente policies with Putin had in fact left Germany, and Europe, vulnerable.

Once hailed as the leader of the free world, the veteran centre-right leader has been accused by some of increasing Europe’s reliance on Russian energy and neglecting Germany’s defence in what appeared to be a devastating miscalculation of Putin’s ambitions.

Merkel’s push for diplomacy and bids to bind regimes to treaties and business contracts now look like “an error”, conservative daily Die Welt, long critical of Merkel, charged.

“What Germany and Europe has experienced over the last days is nothing short of a reversal of Merkel’s policies of guaranteeing peace and freedom through treaties with despots,” it wrote.

Over the last decade, Germany’s energy reliance on Russia rose from 36 percent of its total gas imports in 2014 to 55 percent currently, with the deal for the controversial Nord Stream 2 signed after the Kremlin’s annexation of Crimea from Ukraine.

READ ALSO: Germany’s Merkel calls Russian invasion ‘turning point’ for Europe

That has left Germany nearly helpless to follow allies like the United States and impose an oil and gas embargo against Russia.

And Germany’s defence profile had been blunted by successive years of under-investment. That has drawn the ire of the United States and allies which have repeatedly pressed Europe’s biggest economy to meet the NATO defence spending target of 2 percent of national output.

One of Merkel’s closest aides and former defence minister, Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, has condemned Germany’s “historical failure” to bolster its military over the years.

“After Georgia, Crimea, and Donbas, we have not prepared anything that would have really deterred Putin,” she tweeted, referring to incursions carried out by Russia while Merkel was in power

‘Terrible mistake’
Merkel took power in 2005 after beating Social Democrat Gerhard Schroeder at the polls.

Schroeder himself has been pilloried for his friendship with Putin, and his refusal to quit key posts at Russian energy giants Rosneft and Gazprom.

But her critics say that while Schroeder had started the ball rolling on Nord Stream 1, a pipeline funnelling Russian gas to Germany, Merkel signed off on Nord Stream 2.

The controversial 10-billion-euro ($11-billion) pipeline is disputed because it bypasses Ukraine, depriving Kyiv of gas transit fees. It has been put on ice in the wake of the invasion.

READ ALSO:

Merkel “must take her share of the blame with her eagerness to seek close economic ties to Russia” as it led to Germany’s dependency on Russian energy, Sueddeutsche daily concluded.

“We are now seeing the consequences of that terrible mistake,” it said.

On the geopolitical front, her government’s reluctance in admitting Georgia and Ukraine to the NATO fold in 2008 — despite a push by Washington — was now also under scrutiny.

 ‘Limits’
Joerg Forbrig, director for central and eastern Europe at the German Marshall Fund, rejected the notion that Merkel may have been too naive about the Kremlin boss.

“She had a pretty good appreciation of who Vladimir Putin is and what Russia is today,” he said.

But she had made her decisions in the face of pressure from her coalition partners during 12 out of 16 years — the Social Democrats — who favoured closeness with Russia, he said.

A business lobby that sought economic ties with Russia and Germany’s need to find alternative energy sources as it wound down nuclear power plants were also part of the considerations.

“All these cross pressures didn’t really allow her to implement a Russia policy that would have been commensurate with the problem that Russia is,” said Forbrig.

Marina Henke, professor of international relations at the Hertie School, said keeping her coalition together had been crucial for Merkel, “a bridge-builder” not known for lofty visions but who favoured step-by-step progress.

“She was much more thinking about… how can I make things better in the next one, two years,” said Henke.

While the analysts noted that she made a clear mistake over energy, they believe that the Russia question would not lead to a rewrite of her overall political legacy, and that she would still be credited for steering Germany through a multitude of crises and for keeping the EU together.

For Henke this is because the responsibility of the SPD far outweighs Merkel’s in Germany’s past stance towards Russia.

“If you don’t know Germany, and think that the chancellor or the head of state is omnipotent, then it might come across like (Merkel’s to blame). But if you’re German… then you know… it’s basically a major mistake of the SPD.”

Forbrig pointed to a meeting when Merkel told Belarusian opposition leader Svetlana Tikhanovskaya “not to overestimate” how much she could help because the leeway she is working with is “much more limited than many people think”.

“She had an acute understanding of the limits of her power,” he said.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How the Ukraine crisis could impact Germany

Member comments

  1. Nobody knew Putin would invade Ukraine and in fairness to Merkel Germany has always taken a diplomatic approach to Russia, the Minsk Agreement was agreed by Germany and that could have resolved sone of issues as they relate to Ukraine.

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UKRAINE

Rapping, breakdancing Ukrainians win Eurovision in musical morale boost

Ukraine won the Eurovision Song Contest Sunday with an infectious hip-hop folk melody, boosting spirits in the embattled nation fighting off a Russian invasion that has killed thousands and displaced millions of people.

Rapping, breakdancing Ukrainians win Eurovision in musical morale boost

Riding a huge wave of public support, Kalush Orchestra beat 24 competitors in the finale of the world’s biggest live music event with “Stefania”, a rap lullaby combining Ukrainian folk and modern hip-hop rhythms.

“Please help Ukraine and Mariupol! Help Azovstal right now,” implored frontman Oleh Psiuk in English from the stage after their performance was met by a cheering audience.

In the Ukrainian capital Kyiv, the triumph was met with smiles and visible relief.

“It’s a small ray of happiness. It’s very important now for us,” said Iryna Vorobey, a 35-year-old businesswoman, adding that the support from Europe was “incredible”.

Following the win, Psiuk — whose bubblegum-pink bucket hat has made him instantly recognisable — thanked everyone who voted for his country in the contest, which is watched by millions of viewers.

“The victory is very important for Ukraine, especially this year. Thank you from the bottom of our hearts. Glory to Ukraine,” Psiuk told journalists.

Music conquers Europe

The win provided a much-needed morale boost for the embattled nation in its third month of battling much-larger Russian forces.

Mahmood & BLANCO  performing for Italy at Eurovision 2022

Mahmood & BLANCO perform on behalf of Italy during the final of the Eurovision Song contest 2022 in Turin, Italy. (Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP)

“Our courage impresses the world, our music conquers Europe!” he wrote on Facebook.

“This win is so very good for our mood,” Andriy Nemkovych, a 28 year-old project manager, told AFP in Kyiv.

The victory drew praise in unlikely corners, as the deputy chief of the NATO military alliance said it showed just how much public support ex-Soviet Ukraine has in fighting off Moscow.

“I would like to congratulate Ukraine for winning the Eurovision contest,” Mircea Geoana said as he arrived in Berlin for talks that will tackle the alliance’s expansion in the wake of the Kremlin’s war.

“And this is not something I’m making in a light way because we have seen yesterday the immense public support all over Europe and Australia for the bravery of” Ukraine, Geoana said.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson called the win “a clear reflection of not just your talent, but of the unwavering support for your fight for freedom”.

And European Council President Charles Michel said he hoped next year’s contest “can be hosted in Kyiv in a free and united Ukraine”.

‘Ready to fight’
Despite the joyous theatrics that are a hallmark of the song contest, the war in Ukraine hung heavily over the festivities this year.
 
The European Broadcasting Union, which organises the event, banned Russia on February 25, the day after Moscow invaded its neighbour.
 
“Stefania”, written by Psiuk as a tribute to his mother before the war, mixes traditional Ukrainian folk music played on flute-like instruments with an invigorating hip-hop beat. The band donned richly embroidered ethnic garb
to perform their act.
 
 
Nostalgic lyrics such as “I’ll always find my way home even if all the roads are destroyed” resonated all the more as millions of Ukrainians have been displaced by war.

Kalush Orchestra received special authorisation from Ukraine’s government to attend Eurovision, since men of fighting age are prohibited from leaving the country, but that permit expires in two days.

Psiuk said he was not sure what awaited the band as war rages back home.

“Like every Ukrainian, we are ready to fight as much as we can and go until the end.

Britain’s ‘Space Man’

Ukraine beat a host of over-the-top acts at the kitschy, quirky annual musical event, including Norway’s Subwoolfer, who sang about bananas while dressed in yellow wolf masks, and Serbia’s Konstrakta, who questioned national healthcare while meticulously scrubbing her hands onstage.

Coming in second place was Britain with Sam Ryder’s “Space Man” and its stratospheric notes, followed by Spain with the reggaeton “SloMo” from Chanel.

After a quarter-century of being shut out from the top spot, Britain had hoped to have a winner in “Space Man” and its high notes belted by the affable, long-haired Ryder.

Britain had been ahead after votes were counted from the national juries, but a jaw-dropping 439 points awarded to Ukraine from the public pushed it to the top spot.

Eurovision’s winner is chosen by a cast of music industry professionals — and members of the public — from each country, with votes for one’s home nation not allowed.

Eurovision is a hit among fans not only for the music, but for the looks on display and this year was no exception. Lithuania’s Monika Liu generated as much social media buzz for her bowl cut hairdo as her sensual and elegant
“Sentimentai”.

Other offerings included Greece’s “Die Together” by Amanda Georgiadi Tenfjord and “Brividi” (Shivers), a duet from Italy’s Mahmood and Blanco.

Italy had hoped the gay-themed love song would bring it a second consecutive Eurovision win after last year’s “Zitti e Buoni” (Shut up and Behave) from high-octane glam rockers Maneskin.

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