Russia's invasion of Ukraine is "a brutal attack ignoring human rights for which there is no excuse," said former German chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday, sitting for her first interview since giving up office.
She said the attack was a big mistake, but also noted that there was never an option to create a security architecture that would have convinced Russia to seek an alternate path.
"I naturally asked myself, what did we do wrong," she said, reflecting on the "great tragedy."
"Could we have done more to prevent this, what I'm now calling a great tragedy. And that's why you ask, why I'm still naturally asking these questions."
However she also said there was no way she was going to apologize for efforts while she was in office to seek diplomatic solutions to the tensions building while she was still chancellor as Russia hinted throughout 2021 that it might attack Ukraine.
"Diplomacy isn't wrong just because it didn't work," she said. "So I don't see why I should have to say that it was wrong and I won't apologize for it."
She also noted that she had not been naive about Russian President Vladimir Putin's "hate" of the Western democratic model, saying she had warned her colleagues several times that he wanted to tear apart the European Union, which she said he sees as a sister project to the NATO defence pact, the existence of which Putin used as a pretext for invading Ukraine.
But she also noted that her past position put her in a bind today, when it came to making comments about the war. "I'm the federal chancellor emeritus," she said and not a "completely normal citizen."
That's why she said she has to be careful about weighing in on the debates of the day, since it's not her place to offer advice from the sidelines. Instead, she said, she sticks to keeping appointments that she thinks she will enjoy.
Plus, she said, she has "full confidence" in the current government, led by Chancellor Olaf Scholz, who worked as finance minister in Merkel's final government.
'Barbaric war of aggression'
The session was moderated by Alexander Osang, a journalist with Spiegel magazine who has interviewed Merkel several times.
Merkel stepped down after last year's general election and planned to rest for several months after serving as chancellor of Germany from 2005 to 2021.
In recent months, Merkel had said she did not wish to speak publicly as a retired leader who should not interfere from the sidelines. Last week she finally said that she supported all efforts by the German government, the EU, the US, NATO, the G7 and the UN to "put a stop to this barbaric war of aggression by Russia."
During her time in office, Merkel had always made a point of not letting the thread of communication with Putin break despite her personal dislike of the Russian leader, but her handling of the Russian-German gas pipeline Nord Stream 2 has come in for much criticism for increasing German dependence on Moscow.
Tuesday's event was organized by the publisher Aufbau and the Berliner Ensemble theatre company.
In 2021 Aufbau published a collection of Merkel's speeches and it was her idea to have a soft re-entry into the public eye in connection with the publication of the book, which is how Tuesday's event at the Berliner Ensemble came about.