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Though Usually Stoic, Merkel Shows Growing Ire With Russia

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

German Chancellor Angela Merkel sounds fed up with Russia. She used to champion talks with Moscow. Now she accuses the Kremlin of breaking international law and endangering peace in Europe. Merkel is typically stoic. Today, she offered a rare glimpse of her growing frustration during a speech to the German parliament. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson has more from Berlin.

SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: After dozens of phone calls and meetings all over the globe with Russian President Vladimir Putin to try to and end the crisis in Ukraine, German Chancellor Angela Merkel made it clear this morning she'd had enough.

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GERMAN CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL: (German spoken).

NELSON: Nothing justifies or excuses Russia's annexation of Crimea, the chancellor said. She added, and nothing justifies or excuses Russia's direct or indirect involvement in the fighting in Donetsk or Lugansk either.

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MERKEL: (German spoken).

NELSON: Merkel suggested Russian officials were hypocrites, accusing them of ignoring Ukraine's territorial integrity despite signing a memorandum 20 years ago to respect that country's borders. She vowed to continue sanctions against Russia, even though they have cost her country billions of dollars too. Gustav Gressel is a Russia expert with the Berlin office of the European Council on Foreign Relations. He says Merkel's public thrashing of Moscow was no surprise given that she's been lied to time and again by Putin over the past year.

GUSTAV GRESSEL: The Russians are consistently telling her things that are obviously not true, and the Russians kept sort of making promises that were never kept.

NELSON: The last straw came in Australia during a four hour private meeting between the German and Russian leaders ahead of a recent G20 summit. Reports say Merkel asked Putin to spell out exactly what he wanted in Ukraine and some other former Soviet satellites. But officials familiar with the conversation say he only offered the same denials and excuses he's given for months. There was no immediate response from the Kremlin to Merkel's comments. Analyst Gressel says he expects Russia will ratchet up pressure on Germany through other parties by withdrawing investments or quote, "technical difficulties with its shipments of natural gas," which Ukraine and many European countries heavily depend on.

GRESSEL: I think they will now try to sort of inflict damage on very vulnerable states - vulnerable to Russian pressure, to Russian economic pressure - like Austria, like Hungary, like Slovakia and Bulgaria or even like Italy, and try to build up a coalition of pressure against the sanctions.

NELSON: Many politicians in Germany are also opposed to their government shunning Russia. And several opposition lawmakers heckled the chancellor during her speech. Even so, it appears unlikely such tactics will cause Merkel to back down.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MERKEL: (German spoken).

NELSON: She told the parliament we need patience and perseverance. The goal, she said, is a sovereign Ukraine with its territory intact and able to decide its future without being bullied.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

MERKEL: (German spoken).

NELSON: But the chancellor also left the door to open to diplomacy, possibly through trade talks between the Eurasian Union and European Union, something Russia favors. Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson, NPR News, Berlin. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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