But the real surprise was the tone taken by Ms. Merkel in her speech after the summit meeting. In recent weeks, the chancellor has made it clear she sees that “Putin is testing us,” as she told parliamentary deputies. In a discussion at the university, she developed that thought further, asking whether Mr. Putin’s annexation of Crimea and military and political interference in eastern Ukraine meant a return to the times when Moscow decided the fate of its near neighbors.
Ms. Merkel seemed to acknowledge that the West should consider Russian sensitivities to Ukraine — with long, close ties to Russia — joining NATO. But she said that was not the case with Ukraine drawing closer to the European Union, which sparked the long-running unrest and conflict with Russia.
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In such a case, “it cannot be that you forbid a country to act, or that it cannot itself decide freely,” she said. “Otherwise, we have to say: ‘We’re so weak, pay attention, people, we can’t take any more members — we’ll just ask in Moscow whether it’s possible.’ That was how it was for 40 years, or longer, and I really was not wanting to go back there.”
“And it is not just a case of Ukraine,” Ms. Merkel continued. “It concerns Moldova, it concerns Georgia. If things go on like this, one can ask: Should we ask about Serbia? Should we ask about the western Balkans? That is certainly incompatible with our values.”