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Angela Merkel breaks silence on Ukraine, calls Russia’s war ‘barbaric’

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German Chancellor Angela Merkel gives a joint news conference with Ukrainian President following their talks at the Mariinsky palace in Kiev, on August 22, 2021.
SERGEY DOLZHENKO | AFP | Getty Images

Former German Chancellor Angela Merkel forcefully condemned Russia’s war in Ukraine in her first public speech since leaving office in December of last year.

Premising her comments by saying that she did not want to give advice from the sidelines, Merkel described Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a “barbaric war of aggression” which constituted a “far-reaching turning point” and the most “glaring breach of international law” in Europe since the Second World War.

“My solidarity goes out to Ukraine which has been attacked and raided by Russia,” the former leader said at a German trade union event in Berlin on Wednesday night, adding that Ukraine’s right to self-defense was indisputable.

Merkel, who led Germany for 16 years, has come under heavy scrutiny in the last few months for her history of friendly relations with Russian President Vladimir Putin and track record of expanding economic ties between Russia and Germany.

Many criticize her for increasing Germany’s dependence on Russian energy imports, particularly with the establishment of the first Nord Stream gas pipeline between the two countries. She was also the driving force behind the now-defunct Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which her predecessor Olaf Scholz aborted just before Russia’s invasion of Ukraine began.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel (R) and Russian President Vladimir Putin (L) arrive to the plenary session at the G20 Summit on July 7, 2017.
Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

Merkel has not responded to those criticisms directly. Shortly after Russia launched its invasion, Merkel issued a brief statement saying that there was no justification for breaching international law.

But her silence since then has angered many critics, who accuse her of having enabled Putin. Merkel had insisted on maintaining communication and engagement with Putin even after his annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula in 2014 and incursions into eastern Ukraine, which triggered EU sanctions on Russia.

CNBC has reached out to the German Chancellery for comment.

Scholz, Merkel’s predecessor, now faces the task of turning that record around, and has overseen some of the most dramatic shifts in German foreign policy since the end of World War II — namely ramping up Germany’s military spending and agreeing to send weapons to a conflict zone to support Ukraine.

Scholz said Wednesday that Germany would send Ukraine its IRIS-T air defense system, amid criticism that his government still isn’t doing enough to help Ukraine defend itself against Russia.

Also on Wednesday, Germany’s parliamentary budget committee approved a historic 100 billion euro ($106 billion) fund for the country’s military, which will go to the full parliament on Friday.

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