Chancellor Angela Merkel said the European Union and the U.S. may be facing a long confrontation with Russia over Ukraine, citing the 40 years it took East Germany to escape communist control.
Merkel, who grew up in former East Germany, signaled determination to uphold EU sanctions on Russia in comments in Berlin yesterday that underscored the fraught relationship with President Vladimir Putin, whose actions in the Ukrainian crisis she says are rooted in a Cold War mentality.
“I don’t see any change at the moment regarding Russia’s position,” Merkel said. “We needed 40 years to overcome East Germany. Sometimes in history one has to be prepared for the long haul, and not ask after four months if it still makes sense to keep up our demands.”
Merkel’s warning added to her comments to German industry leaders last week that an end to the ‘‘deep-rooted conflict’’ with Russia is far off as a cease-fire fails to halt fighting between Ukrainian government forces and pro-Russian separatists.
“Merkel lost faith in Putin a long time ago, but there’s now a realization in Germany and Europe that the Ukraine conflict is turning from hot-phase crisis management into a long game,” Jan Techau, head of the Carnegie Endowment’s office in Brussels, said by phone today.
Ukraine’s conflict, which the United Nations says has left more than 3,500 people dead, is forcing Merkel to take a stand as the country’s government seeks closer EU ties and accuses Putin of fomenting the pro-Russian rebellion in the east. Russia denies involvement in the conflict.
Nine Ukrainian soldiers were killed in the worst casualties since a Sept. 5 truce, the government said yesterday. President Petro Poroshenko said last week that the worst of the war is over as Ukraine focuses on elections next month, securing gas supplies and preparing a bid for EU membership.
“As long as the EU tries to prop up the Kiev government, there will be permanent confrontation with Moscow,” Techau said.
Merkel, 60, grew up as the daughter a Lutheran pastor in East Germany, the state founded in the Soviet-occupied part of Germany in 1949 after the defeat of Adolf Hitler’s Nazi regime in World War II. Communist rule collapsed after the Berlin Wall was breached following mass protests in 1989, and East Germany ceased to exist with reunification on Oct. 3, 1990.
“Nobody had anticipated that Putin would take such a momentous decision” to “take us back to a Europe before 1989,” Peter Wittig, Germany’s ambassador to the U.S., said at a Bloomberg Government lunch in Washington yesterday.
“A lot of trust was destroyed by Putin’s policy” in Ukraine, Wittig said. “And I think it’s a challenge to regain that trust.”
Merkel made her comments at a news conference after talks with Finnish Prime Minister Alexander Stubb, whose government has put fighter jets on alert after Russian planes repeatedly violated the northernmost euro-area country’s airspace.
Finland has the EU’s longest border with Russia and Stubb agreed that the Ukraine conflict isn’t going to be resolved any time soon. “We are looking at a long-term situation,” he said.