She is the European Union's longest serving head of government - since 2005 - and now she is emerging as the uncontested leader of the continent, defending her vision of a peaceful and stable Europe through a diplomatic solution.

Angela Merkel's high profile and pivotal role in the diplomatic frenzy to prevent a total war in the Ukraine, creates a new political reality in Europe with a new, more prominent role for Germany.

Some observers were stunned by the self-confidence and determination of the 60-year-old German chancellor.

"She looks like a new Merkel," one TV commentator said. "Speaking on behalf of a new, more assertive Germany."

Taking French President Francois Hollande along with her in separate meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko, starring at the Munich Security Conference, flying to Washington for urgent talks with US President Barack Obama and doing the ground work for the Minsk summit, Merkel clearly took the lead in an all-out effort to let negotiations prevail.

Real politiker

She is a strong believer in diplomacy and international norms and rules. Having grown up in the communist German Democratic Republic (DDR), she knows that the Berlin wall fell because of the will of the people and through diplomatic pressure, not through military might. She is also very much a "real politiker" if not -according to some critics - a "Machiavellist". Merkel is aware that Germany and most of Europe is not ready -politically, militarily, or psychologically - to enter into a full-scale bloody war in Eastern Europe.

Merkel calls on Russia to help defuse Ukraine crisis

That is one of the reasons that sending more lethal weapons to Ukraine is not an option for her. Not because she is a pacifist. But Merkel is convinced that more weapons in the hands of the Kiev government  will not change Putin's ambitions in Ukraine and will only fuel the spiral of violence and cause more death and suffering.

That is why she realised she had no other option than to take political responsibility and play all diplomatic cards which she earlier might have kept close to her chest.

Contrary to the Americans, who like to boast about their leadership role in the world, Germany is a reluctant leader. Though an economic super power in Europe, the driving force behind the euro and main power broker in the EU especially in the economic and monetary field, Germany has been reticent to play a strategic role on the world stage.

Contrary to France and the UK, who are frequently engaged in military operations overseas, the German army sticks to its defensive role in Europe within the NATO parameters. Contrary to France and the UK, Germany is not represented in the UN Security Council, though the country is geographically bigger and has the largest population in Europe.

Germany's 'unnatural' modest role seems to have come to an end. Merkel is aware that the Germans cannot shy away any longer from the responsibilities of their power and its consequences, politically or financially.

 

But Germany's "unnatural" modest role seems to have come to an end. Merkel is aware that the Germans cannot shy away any longer from the responsibilities of their power and its consequences, politically or financially. On the one hand, Germany's leadership is one by default, as Brussels remains unable to formulate a strong, united foreign policy.

On the other hand, Putin turned his back on Europe. Russia seems to pursue a geo-strategic policy that has some frightening 19th century characteristics. It is in the German interest to find an adequate answer to Russia's ambitions.

Stable peace

Gone are the days that Putin addressed the Bundestag, the German parliament, declaring: "Russia is a friendly-minded European country" whose "main goal is a stable peace on this continent".

Gone are the days that he praised democracy and denounced totalitarianism, and received an ovation from an audience that included Merkel. That was 2001. In 2015, Russia defends its ally Bashar al-Assad in Syria and deepens its political and economic cooperation with China, Egypt, Turkey, and Iran, rather than with Europe.

German-born former American Secretary of State Henry Kissinger once called Germany too big for Europe, too small for the world. The shadow of the period 1914 to 1945 still clouds the perceptions many have of Germany.

Some American senators, including the influential chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee John McCain, suggested that the Europeans under German leadership are letting Ukraine down and that the Germans' actions recently have been reminiscent of the 1930s. But this cheap rhetoric, referring to the appeasement policies towards Nazi Germany before World War II, did not go down well in Brussels.

Still, a leading role for Germany remains problematic. Germany seems to be damned if it leads and damned if it does not. History is never far away. In the Baltics and Poland, many remember the harmful alliances between Russia and Germany in the past. In Greece, Italy, Spain, and France many loath the economic and monetary "German dictate", seen as rigid and self-righteous. In the eyes of its critics Germany is perceived as too big and powerful.

Merkel knows all that, of course. But the dangers threatening Europe, including Germany, are too serious: full scale war in Ukraine, terrorism by ISIL, the Middle East in turmoil, and Greece.

For the moment at least, the European countries do not have an alternative; so they are sticking together and giving Merkel a chance.

Jan Keulen is a Dutch journalist and media development consultant. 

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

Source: Al Jazeera