After criticism, Germany's Merkel shows solidarity for Ukraine - source

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FILE PHOTO: Former Chancellor Angela Merkel looks on as the Federal Assembly gathers
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BERLIN (Reuters) - Former German Chancellor Angela Merkel expressed solidarity for Ukraine in what she described as a "barbaric war" with Russia at an event on Wednesday, after months of silence prompted criticism of her own policy towards Moscow.

Merkel, chancellor for 16 years until December, said she would not offer advice from the sidelines but she supported the government's efforts to "find an end to this barbaric war", a participant at the event told Reuters.

"My solidarity goes to Ukraine," the participant quoted her as saying at a farewell ceremony for the outgoing president of the DGB trade union confederation.

A fluent Russian-speaker after growing up in the former communist East Germany, Merkel drew criticism from the United States and others for supporting the planned Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, designed to deliver Russian gas directly to Germany.

Merkel's successor, Olaf Scholz, has shelved the project.

She also stressed the need to keep talking to Russian President Vladimir Putin even after the annexation of the Crimea and conflict in eastern Ukraine which led to Western sanctions.

Although Merkel, a conservative, gave a brief statement shortly after Russia's invasion in February, saying there was no justification for the blatant breach of international law, her silence since then has raised eyebrows.

Actor Ulrich Matthes, a friend of Merkel's, defended her, telling Stern magazine this week that the war concerned her but she did not want to get involved. "I suspect she doesn't want to be a kind of secondary chancellor," he was quoted as saying.

Some other German politicians, including her former foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel, have acknowledged that the policy of reconciliation with Russia may have been too optimistic.

Facing criticism that Germany is doing too little to help Ukraine, Scholz said earlier on Wednesday that Germany would supply Ukraine with the IRIS-T air defence system.

Late on Wednesday, the parliamentary budget committee cleared the way for a planned 100 billion euro ($106 billion)fund to beef up Germany's military to pass through parliament on Friday.

($1 = 0.9392 euros)

(Reporting by Holger Hansen; Writing by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Richard Pullin)

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