Merkel dismisses calls to supply weapons to Ukraine

German chancellor applauded at Munich security conference after meeting with Vladimir Putin

Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko, German chancellor Angela Merkel and US vice president Joe Biden at the 51st Munich Security Conference. Photograph: Michaela Rehle/Reuters

Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko, German chancellor Angela Merkel and US vice president Joe Biden at the 51st Munich Security Conference. Photograph: Michaela Rehle/Reuters


German chancellor Angela Merkel has dismissed calls to supply weapons to Ukraine to resist pro-Russian rebels in its eastern regions, saying international efforts should concentrate on diplomacy and economic measures.

Heading back from her Moscow meeting with Russian president Vladimir Putin, Dr Merkel earned applause at the Munich Security Conference for arguing that, to date, the flow of weapons to eastern Ukraine had not yet brought peace.

But the German leader came under attack from conference participants, particularly US delegates, who recalled Frederick the Great’s remark that “diplomacy without weapons is like music without notes”.

The chancellor responded that that, as someone who grew up in East Germany, she understood the international community’s decision not to intervene militarily when East Germany erected the Berlin Wall in 1961.

“I don’t blame anyone for the realistic assessment at the time that it would not be succesful,” she said.

“The problem (today) is that I cannot imagine a situation in which improved arming of the Ukrainian army impresses Putin so much that he thinks he will lose militarily.”

Her outspoken remarks came ahead of a meeting with US President Joe Biden and growing pressure from Washington for Europe to back efforts to improve Ukraine’s defensive capability.

The German leader conceded she was of a different opinion on the arms issue to Ukraine’s president Petro Poroshenko, sitting in the front row in Munich, but promised instead to push diplomacy and to improve the economic situation of ordinary Ukrainians.

With growing risk of a transatlantic rift on the issue, the German leader said the EU would continue to act together to oppose the forcible shift of borders on the continent.

“Nobody is interested in a new division of Europe, even less an uncontrolled escalation (in Ukraine),” she said.

Russia’s actions in Ukraine had violated the post-war order, she said, and stood in contradiction to its international obligaions.

Aware of growing US impatience, Dr Merkel conceded that Europe - and Germany - were often slower to act in international conflicts but that their approach in the past had proven to be sustainable in the long term.

The Ukraine conflict is the headline issue at this year’s Munich Security Conference, with backroom diplomacy taking place in parallel to high-profil panel discussions.

Dr Merkel will hold trilateral talks with Mr Poroshenko and Mr Biden, after which the US vice president will give the Munich gathering his thoughts on the conflict and the Moscow mission of the German and French leaders.

Thos talks ended on Friday last night without an agreement on how to prevent an escalation of the Ukraine conflict but were described by a Kremlin spokesman as “substantive and meaningful”.

Dr Merkel and Francois Hollande, the president of France, had embarked on the high-stakes peace mission to Moscow as the US and Europe debate the best strategy in a convlict that has already claimed more than 5,000 lives.

After arriving in Moscow yesterday evening Ms Merkel and Mr Hollande were whisked to Russian president Vladimir Putin’s residence in the Kremlin for behind-closed-doors negotiations that lasted for five hours.

The talks wound up just before midnight in Moscow and the three leaders agreed to continue to work towards a joint document implementing the ceasefire deal brokered in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, last September. That agreement has collapsed amid renewed fighting in eastern Ukraine.

The three leaders were expected to continue talks by telephone tomorrow, said Mr Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov.

Mr Putin, who held a meeting of the Russian Security Council on Thursday to discuss the conflict in Ukraine, appeared relaxed during a brief photoshoot with Ms Merkel and Mr Hollande in the Kremlin yesterday.

Russian political commentators said he saw no need to compromise on Ukraine.

“Russia’s position is that we are stronger than Ukraine and can dictate terms to Kiev,” said Nikolai Svanidze, a Russian historian and journalist, told told the Echo Moskvy radio station. The Kremlin did not believe that Nato would risk going to warn with a major nuclear power like Russia, he added.