Sunday, December 5

“I’m not holding back”: Merkel will give Putin a farewell visit to the Kremlin | Europe


Angela Merkel’s “farewell visit” to the Kremlin on Friday will mark the end of one of Europe’s oldest and most complex political relations, a tense 15-year tug-of-war between Europe’s oldest statesman and the bloc’s main antagonist. in Vladimir Putin.

Although deeply strained, their relationship never broke down. The German chancellor has reportedly distrusted the former KGB officer from his first 2001 appearance before the Bundestag, where he courted MPs in fluent German and called for the unit against international terrorism.

The two of them never seemed very comfortable in conversation, whether in German or Russian. Both formidable leaders, their conflicting political styles and visceral distrust of one another made their summits fascinating.

“No other politician on the world stage has been as good at coping as badly for as long as these two,” wrote the German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung in an article ahead of Friday’s summit.

Merkel’s early wariness of Putin has been justified by events of the past 15 years, from Russia’s annexation of Crimea to the poisoning attack on dissident Alexei Navalny and the killings in Europe.

There were also personal slights, such as an incident in 2007 when Putin allowed his Labrador retriever Koni to get close to Merkel, who is afraid of dogs. “I understand why you have to do this, to show that you are a man,” he later told a group of journalists. “He is afraid of his own weakness.”

And yet, as many in the West have tried to isolate Putin, she and Frenchman Emmanuel Macron have urged EU nations to maintain a direct dialogue with the Russian leader. As she enters the twilight of her term, the Russian president’s allies believe Merkel will seek a breakthrough in talks about the conflict in Ukraine when she meets with Putin on Friday.

But it is not clear what scope for cooperation exists. The Minsk dialogue, the largely Merkel-led peace talks between Ukraine, Germany, France and the Russian-backed separatists in southeastern Ukraine, are stalled.

And the meeting comes on the first anniversary of the poisoning attack on Alexei Navalny, Putin’s opponent jailed in Russia in a case clearly motivated by political revenge. It was the Charité clinic in Berlin that confirmed that he had been attacked with a novichok poison last year, a diagnosis that Russia has rejected.

“This still unsolved case, of course, puts great pressure on our relationship with Russia,” Merkel spokesman Steffen Seibert said on Wednesday. “Our demands have not yet been met. You will also know that Mr. Navalny is unjustly incarcerated, is serving his sentence in a penal camp, and that he is even being charged with new charges. All these points weigh on the relationship between Germany and Russia ”.

Other critics see Merkel too soft on Russia. His final visit comes as Nord Stream 2, an oil pipeline linking Russia to Germany, is nearing completion. The pipeline, which will allow Russia to deliver gas directly to Germany and bypass other countries that it currently uses for transit, has pushed Eastern Europe to the limit.

Volodymyr Zelenskiy, the president of Ukraine, has called the pipeline a “powerful weapon that is being given to Russia.” He was reportedly “surprised” and “disappointed” after the United States and Germany announced that they had reached an agreement to allow the pipeline to go ahead.

Merkel has said that Germany will respond if Russia uses the threat of gas cuts to pressure Ukraine and plans to visit Kiev on Sunday in what appears to be an attempt to allay concerns. The Atlantic Council, a think tank strongly critical of Russia, has asked it to use the visit to “reject Russia’s imperial claims on Ukraine.”

Merkel is likely to put it differently when she meets Putin for the last time as chancellor this week. She has said that she challenges the Russian president directly in private, adding: “When it comes to criticizing him, I don’t stop.”

But his calls for direct talks with Putin, also supported by Macron, increasingly face backlash in the EU, where some believe the Russian leader cannot be reasoned with.

“In general, we have a lot of conflicts with Russia that unfortunately make our relationship very difficult,” told the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe in Strasbourg at the beginning of this year. “However, I am someone who says we should always talk.”


www.theguardian.com

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