I was wrong German president apologises as he admits mistakes over Putin connections

“Putin is not being stopped”: Ukrainian MP

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Over the weekend, Mr Steinmeier had come under fire from the Ukrainian ambassador to Germany Andriy Melnyk and Polish Deputy Prime Minister Jaroslaw Kaczynski for his closeness to Russia. The two had given interviews to German media, with Mr Melnyk telling Tagesspiegel newspaper that Steinmeier has not been serious about his break with Russian policy.

He said Steinmeier had built a “web of contacts with Russia for decades.”

He added: “For Steinmeier, the relationship with Russia was and remains something fundamental – even sacred.”

Mr Kaczynski took aim at Germany’s foreign policy in Welt am Sonntag, where he noted his country “is not pleased with Germany’s role in Europe.”

Since then, the German president has admitted his mistakes in his dealings with the Russian leader Putin and spoke of a “bitter record” between the two countries. 

Mr Steinmeier, a Social Democrat who served as Foreign Minister under Chancellor Angela Merkel before being elevated to the presidency, made the apology during a conversation with journalists at Bellevue Palace on Monday, April 4.

Among the mistakes, he outlined his advocacy of the Russian-German gas pipeline Nord Stream 2, which he had described as a “bridge” in relations between the two countries as recently as last year.

The pipeline project had been a subject of scrutiny from the US and other allies of Germany, as they argued it would have weakened Ukraine by cutting it out of the energy transit business and sent a wrong signal to Putin after he annexed Crimea in 2014.

He said: “My clinging on to Nord Stream 2, that was clearly a mistake.

“We held on to bridges that Russia no longer believed in and that our partners warned us against.

He went on to add: “My assessment was that Vladimir Putin would not accept the complete economic, political and moral ruin of his country for his imperial mania. I, like others, was mistaken.”

Mr Steinmeier also spoke of a “bitter record” of Russian policy.

He said: “We have failed with the construction of a common European house in which Russia is included. We have failed with the approach of including Russia in a common security architecture.”

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He also said that as long as Russia remained under Putin’s leadership, there would be “no return to the status quo from before the war”.

Over the weekend, Andrij Melnyk also criticised him by claiming that he had no connection with Ukraine.

He defended himself against Melnyk’s accusation, by saying: “I suffer very much with the people of Ukraine.

“After the beginning of 2014, no other country has shaped my work in such a way.”

Mr Steinmeier’s apology comes as the German government has sought to reverse course on its own policy with respect to Russia.

Recently, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz announced a massive boost in defence spending to try to reverse years of neglect in the aftermath of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

The country has also welcomed nearly 300,000 Ukrainian refugees.

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