BERLIN — Angela Merkel, who led Germany for sixteen years, said that her diminished political power in the run up to her retirement prevented her from setting up diplomatic talks aimed at dissuading President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia from launching Moscow’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine in February.
In an extensive interview published on Thursday in Der Spiegel Magazine, Ms. Merkel explained that she and French President Emmanuel Macron had tried in the summer of 2021 to set up talks between European Union leaders and Mr. Putin to de-escalate Russia-Ukraine tensions but failed. Ms. Merkel at that point had already announced her plans to retire.
“I no longer had the strength to assert myself because everyone knew: she would be gone in the fall,” she said.
She said she felt she was losing political clout before stepping down when dealing directly with Mr. Putin. Recounting her last state visit to Moscow in August of 2021, Ms. Merkel noted that Mr. Putin would not meet with her alone, as he had done in the past, instead opting to include his foreign secretary.
“The feeling was quite clear: ‘In terms of power politics, you’re through,’” she said, adding that “for Putin, all that counts is power.”
Ms. Merkel, a former East German physicist who speaks fluent Russian, was more familiar with Mr. Putin than many other European leaders, in part because they had both led their respective countries for so long. When Mr. Putin ordered his troops to invade Ukraine in late February, some analysts speculated that the timing was linked to Merkel’s retirement and the resulting perceived instability of the European Union.
Olaf Scholz, who succeeded Ms. Merkel as chancellor, traveled to Moscow in February — nine days before Russian troops invaded Ukraine. By then, Mr. Putin’s plans for the invasion were already in motion.
Ms. Merkel previously has distanced herself from criticism over Germany’s policies toward Russia during her 16-year tenure as chancellor and her country’s dependence on Russian energy.
She also has insisted that diplomatic efforts to prevent the invasion of Ukraine were the right course of action at the time.
“Diplomacy is not wrong if it does not succeed.” she said in June, adding: “So I don’t see that I have to say: that was wrong, and therefore I won’t apologize.”