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In the 96 hours before Angela Merkel touched down in Ottawa on Monday, she had visited more world capitals than some of us will see in a lifetime. The German Chancellor had already been in Washington, Moscow and Kiev, with pit stops in the European power she has led for a decade.

Jet lag be damned, Ms. Merkel was in Minsk on Wednesday, brokering a Ukraine peace deal that, depending on your take on Vladimir Putin, might nip the Russian President's expansionist tendencies in the bud or only encourage him to pursue his ultimate goal of dismantling the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

While in Belarus, Ms. Merkel was likely receiving real-time updates from aides in Brussels, where German Finance Minister Wolfgang Shaeuble was reiterating her hard line about the new Greek government's ultimatum on a €240-billion bailout at a meeting of euro-zone finance chiefs.

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It's no exaggeration to say that Ms. Merkel holds the fates of both Greece and Ukraine in her hands. And as Greece and Ukraine go, so goes Europe, and possibly the entire planet. Ms. Merkel is not just the world's most powerful woman (as decreed eight times by Forbes), she may be its most powerful leader, period.

Who else has the global standing, the proven competency and the personal charm to impose herself on any situation and shape the outcome? Her peers may disagree, but all have the time of day for her. She does not have world's biggest military or economy backing her, but she projects a moral authority that global counterparts Barack Obama, Xi Jinping and certainly Mr. Putin lack.

It may be tempting to compare her to Margaret Thatcher. But in many ways, Ms. Merkel is the anti-Thatcher. She is known to be stubborn, but she is not dogmatic. She has alternately led coalition governments with parties on the left and right. Her domestic policy is forged by compromise.

On the global front, Ms. Merkel appears to be very good at defusing crises, if not ever really solving them. The euro zone has lurched repeatedly toward the brink, only to settle on the strength of Ms. Merkel's commitment to holding it together. With the election of Greece's anti-austerity Syriza government, the clock is ticking on Europe once again.

Greece's current bailout package expires Feb. 28 but the new government is refusing to extend it. Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis says his government will not proceed with one-third of the reforms demanded by the country's creditors and is instead seeking a better deal. A Greek default looms again.

Ms. Merkel may get burned in effigy in the streets of Athens, but she is not the unfeeling Frau portrayed by her critics. She believes that the key to a sustainable European economy requires structural reforms in countries that have put them off for too long. But she's been far more forgiving than her public image suggests.

The European Central Bank's move to begin quantitative easing is proof of Ms. Merkel's willingness to compromise. Ironically, Germany is likely to be the main beneficiary of looser monetary policy, as a weaker euro further fuels its exports. But QE also eases pressure on other euro-zone governments to cut their deficits, as Germany has demanded.

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Turning to Ukraine, the Russian-speaking Ms. Merkel has already been burned once by Mr. Putin. He lied to her face about the presence of Russian troops in Ukraine and violated a September peace deal she brokered before the ink was even dry.

Her willingness to try again, even if securing peace means allowing the Russian leader to claim victory and even perhaps retain territory, has led critics to liken her to British prime minister Neville Chamberlain, who thought ceding part of Czechoslovakia in 1938 would check Hitler's ambitions.

That's an uncharitable take on Ms. Merkel's sensibilities and intelligence. She knows her history. She also takes a long view, believing that crises as deeply rooted as Europe's debt addiction and Russia's fear of Western encroachment can't ever be truly solved, only managed.

"I cannot give you a guarantee for the outcome of the Wednesday talks or any other talks," Ms. Merkel said in Washington on Monday. "Maybe nothing will come out of it. But then we're called upon again to think of a new possibility. And since we thought about it every step of the way – will this be effective or not? – we will continue to do so."

For turning or not, the lady never gives up.

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