Angela Merkel has emerged as the most dynamic and resolute leader in the world today.
Whereas the standard of political leaders has in general declined, she remains steadfast and determined in her vision of keeping Germany at the forefront of international affairs by maintaining tight control at home and abroad for what she believes to be economic realities in times of austerity.
She is certainly low-key in her political pronouncements making her the most formidable chancellor that Germany perhaps has ever had, in line with Konrad Adenauer, noted for his ability to juggle four or five balls at a time.
Her driven ambition is to unite Europe by keeping it together. In fact, that’s the basis and the goal that she pursues with a dedication comparable only to a religious vocation, self-absorbing to its far-reaching limits.
At the moment, she’s shuttling between the world’s major crisis protagonists in a last-minute initiative to broker a peace agreement between Russia and the Ukraine. She can claim to have a better than most relationship with Vladimir Putin, the mercurial Russian leader, whose strategies of late have baffled the world at large and some believe to have outwitted the West in his handling of the armed conflict, still raging in the Ukraine between the Russian separatists and the government.
Mrs Merkel’s visit to Russia may be her first since 2013, but she has talked to Mr Putin more than Barack Obama, David Cameron and François Hollande combined since the Ukraine crisis began. She has spoken to him more than forty times over the past year.
Mrs Merkel’s lead role is only partly due to Germany’s current political and economic strength, according to Professor Marcus Kaim of the German Institute for International and Security Affairs. ‘It’s more to do with the temporary weakness of others,’ said Professor Kaim. ‘France is contending with an economic crisis and the Front National; Britain is inward-looking and anti-globalist, and the US has embarked on a period of nation-building at home. There are not many other countries ready to shoulder the burden.’
Mrs Merkel, in the view of many, seems to be ‘uniquely qualified’ to deal with Putin on a personal level. Unlike other Western leaders, she grew up under the shadow of the Soviet system that shaped him in Communist-ruled East Germany. There are parallels between hers and Putin’s lives: she went to university in Leipzig, he was posted as a KGB officer to nearby Dresden; she speaks fluent Russian, he speaks German. Putin was so grateful for her blocking NATO expansion to Georgia and Ukraine in 2008 that he promised he ‘would never forget what she has done’.
On the other hand, Mrs Merkel is not an easy nut to crack. She has proved more than able to stand up to the Russians. In 2007, Putin famously ordered his black Labrador brought into the room at a meeting to unsettle the German chancellor, who he knew suffered from a fear of dogs. Mrs Merkel’s response was cutting: ‘I understand why he has to do this, to prove he’s a man,’ she said afterwards. ‘He’s afraid of his own weakness. Russia has nothing, no successful politics or economy. All they have is this.’
After Russia’s annexation of the Crimea last year, Mrs Merkel reportedly told Obama that she thought Putin was living ‘in another world’. But she has also said that she always tries to understand the Russian leader’s point of view.
She has been careful not to act unilaterally but always to be seen to be working with European partners such as Hollande who accompanied her on the latest peace plan mission. ‘If she doesn’t come back with anything from Moscow, I think the next step will be to say maybe it’s time for the US to step in,’ said Professor Kaim. ‘As far as I can see it Merkel and Obama have been coordinating on this. Merkel’s overarching goal is to keep the Europeans together.’
Whatever the outcome of this latest effort to secure some tangible progress towards a sensible cessation of a conflict that could eventually lead to war, I am sure the continuation of dialogue will sooner or later pave the way for a better understanding of the consequences of the escalation of this tragic catastrophe, if left unresolved.