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Why Merkel Is Taking On Russia With Words, Not Military Threats

Experience of conflict shapes the region's stance on military intervention, experts say.
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MAINZ, Germany - Three days ahead of a referendum on whether Crimea should become part of Russia, German chancellor Angela Merkel on Thursday warned Moscow that it risked “massive'' political and economic damage if it refuses to change course over Ukraine.

In an address to Germany’s lower house of parliament, the Bundestag, Merkel reiterated that the only way out of the crisis is through diplomacy.

However, she explicitly ruled out military action – a position echoed across Europe.

“When it comes to promoting diplomacy, Germany does not have an isolated approach,” said Sabine Fischer, head of Eastern Europe and Eurasia research division at think tank SWP in Berlin. “A majority of European states share this position.”

Using her strongest language since the start of the standoff with Russia, Merkel vowed that Europe was ready to stand by former Soviet republics in the face of Russian aggression. She also stated that Russia's deployment of troops to Crimea "was a breach of international law."

“"Let me be absolutely clear: the territorial integrity of Ukraine is not up for discussion,” she said.

Experts say that the historic experience with hostile conflicts in Europe and at the borders of the continent are an important factor in the analysis of Europe’s stance.

“It would not be possible to gauge the risks for the entire European continent with a military conflict in Crimea,” said Fischer. “The entire European project is aimed at making war obsolete. And, the prevention of military conflict is deeply rooted in the European idea.”

After weeks of unsuccessful diplomatic maneuvers - including Merkel-Putin phone conversations and face-to-face meetings between Russian and German officials - the German chancellor and other European leaders are now threatening tougher measures.

Analysts stress that the developments are a culmination of increasingly difficult Russian-German relations in recent years.

“It is widely known that chancellor Merkel has been critical towards the developments in Russian domestic and foreign policy and she has repeatedly voiced this in recent years,” Fischer said.

And Merkel’s behind-the-scenes negotiations are still being applauded at home, where public support for Merkel’s crisis management is still strong.

According to a new poll released on Wednesday, support for German Chancellor Angela Merkel's right-left government coalition grew in recent weeks as a result of her leadership role in the Crimea Crisis.

Foreign ministers of the European Union will meet in Brussels on Monday to discuss further steps in the crisis, followed by a gathering of EU leaders on Thursday, which could see an implementation of harsher sanctions, should Russia continue its course in Ukraine.