Merkel warns of long haul to resolve Ukraine crisis

Dec 8 (Reuters) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned on Monday that it might take a lot longer than previously envisaged to reach a diplomatic solution with Russia over the Ukraine crisis, but said she was convinced it was still possible in the long run.

In an interview with German TV, Merkel said her government could never accept Russia’s annexation of Crimea because that would shake Europe’s foundations. She said the West would judge Russian President Vladimir Putin on his actions, not his words.

“Sometimes you need to have more patience and stamina for something like this,” she told ARD television ahead of a congress of her conservative party on Tuesday, adding that it took a lot longer than expected for the two Germanys to reunite.

“I’m working towards a diplomatic solution and I’m convinced that we can achieve that,” she said, again ruling out any kind of a military solution. “We’re going to need more patience than we first imagined. That’s why we can’t stop working for that.”

Since February, when the pro-Russian president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovich, fled Kiev amid violent protests in the capital, Germany has taken the lead in trying to convince Putin to engage with the West over the crisis in Ukraine.

Merkel has spoken three dozen times with the Russian president on the phone over the past nine months as part of efforts towards a diplomatic solution to the crisis, but she rejected an ARD question about whether she was “disappointed” about making no headway with Putin.

“The category ‘disappointed’ or ‘not disappointed’ isn’t the issue,” she said. “It’s my duty to continue to speak clearly about German and European interests and values (with Putin) and I’ll keep doing that.”

When asked what she thought Putin wanted, Merkel said: “Look, it’s not my job to find that out. I want us to be able to work together with Russia as partners again. There have been severe problems, like annexing Crimea, which we can’t accept.” (Reporting By Erik Kirschbaum; Editing by Susan Fenton)