The German Chancellor Angela Merkel met with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow on August 20. This has been the last meeting between the two leaders, as Merkel will not be a candidate in the September parliamentary elections in Germany.
Still, the meeting was much more that a “farewell visit”, as the German press commented.
The list of topics on the agenda is long, ranging from bilateral economic relations, which center currently on implementation of the Nord Stream 2 agreement, connected to the question of the Ukraine, the situation in Belarus, and recently enlarged to include the situation in Afghanistan. The situation in Libya and Syria were discussed, while the German side also touched on accusations of Russian politician Alexei Navalny.
The German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung places the meeting into the context of Navalny’s claimed poisoning, reminding Merkel’s support for the Russian politician including visits in the hospital and the Kreml’s harsh reaction.
“In this climate”, says the newspaper, will Merkel touch on the issue of Nord Stream 2, “where the Americans hope Merkel will use her influence In Moscow” to convince Putin to use the pipeline in the Ukraine longer than the agreed date of 2024.
After Moscow, Merkel travelled to Kyiv, where she met with Ukrainian president Zelensky. The influential German weekly newspaper Die Zeit reported on the meeting with the headline “Merkel and Ukrainian President Zelensky warned Russia”, saying that the Chancellor had warned against using the Nord Stream pipeline as “a geopolitical weapon”.
Merkel emphasized that the US-German agreement on Nord Stream 2 is also binding for future German governments.
The Süddeutsche Zeitung commented in another article that the Ukrainian side expected Merkel’s visit on August 24, the 30th anniversary of Ukraine’s independence from the Soviet Union.
The article also cites the Ukrainian president with the words, “even if Merkel succeeds to convince Russia on Gas transfer via the Ukraine, who guarantees that this compromise will be held up over the years?”.
“Farewell to an adversary”
The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, daily German newspaper with close ties above all to economic sectors, comments that Germany faces “an authoritarian regime that more and more steps up as an open adversary of the West”.
The author mentions the “historic defeat of the NATO” in Afghanistan, providing Putin an opportunity to step in, still stating that the country is “strategically not important enough to become a central area of competition”.
For the newspaper, Ukraine and the Nord Stream 2, “that’s operation is not stoppable any more but the next debates already on the horizon” will be centric aspects of conflict between Germany and Russia.
The newspaper reports that the US has declared news sanctions in the context of Nord Stream 2, targeting 2 Russian citizens and a ship involved in the pipeline construction.
The FAZ also states that deliveries of Gazprom reached a striking low level, questioning whether “Moscow is cutting of gas export on purpose”.
“Disillusion on farewell trip”
The weekly magazine Der Spiegel headlines “Disillusion on the farewell trip” when reporting on Merkel’s visit to Moscow. The magazine’s Moscow correspondent writes that Putin gave Merkel “roses and rejections. The Russian president presented himself more self-assured than ever”.
At the moment when Merkel demanded the release of Navalny, “Putin was staring to gold covered ceiling of the hall”, describes the correspondent the meeting.
His answer, that the justice in Russia is independent, appeared “self confident” and presented just one of the rejections on that day.
Putin did “not even react” on Merkel’ demand concerning three German NGOS, rejected again foreign intervention in Belarus’ internal affairs, and right after the joint press conference, the Russian Ministry of Justice announced that more journalists and media was placed on the list of “foreign agents”, emphasizes the correspondent, concluding that “the farewell visit has shown how far away from each other the positions of Germany and Russia have become.”
The daily newspaper Handelsblatt focuses on another topic: the acitivities of Germany companies in Russia. Titling “Merkel and Putin take cautios steps to rapprochement”, the newspaper reported on Merkel’s criticism that Russia enforces too much localization on German companies.
In a different commentary, the newspaper stated that “with Merkel’s demission, a vacuum will appear in the Russia policy”. The author states that “Merkel has failed her goals in the policy towards Russia, but she has also resisted for a long time. Now, the European Union loses its most effective contact into the Kremlin.
Merkel was “direct line of communication to Moscow”
The daily newspaper Die Tageszeitung hints into the same direction. Describing Merkel’s position in the meeting as “resisting, but friendly”, the newspaper says Moscow saw in Merkel a “pragmatic “ politician and “ a direct line of communication to Brussels”.
Stating that Merkel’s demission will “open a gap for Europe and Russia” the newspaper discusses whether the French president Macron can fill the void. The newspaper’s answer is a “no”, because Macron does not have the necessary “size” in the eyes of Moscow. The newspaper concludes that ”who ever substitutes Merkel in the office of Chancellor will face a hard test by Putin, which the latter will enjoy deeply.”
Russia “demonstrates” independence of justice in Navalny case
The left wing daily newspaper Junge Welt focuses on the Navalny issue, stating that Merkel has “committed a mistake by making the matter a major issue of her office”.
In the article titled “political intrigue foiled”, the author says that German demands on Navalny pretty much turned out to be part of a “political game”, which the Russian side won by effectively eliminating the Navalny network.
Moreover, says the author, has Russia beaten the West by their own weapons, the justice. A train driver who was first arrested and liad off from the job because of being on a Navalny mailing listed, appealed in court, got released, got his job back and even received a compensation. Thus, says the author, has Russia “demonstrated” its own law system’s independence.
List of problems “chained Merkel and Putin to each other”
The Frankfurter Rundschau recapitulates the history of relations between Merkel and Putin and reminds of parallels in the biographies of both.
The newspaper emphasized that Merkel treated Russia “always with respect and understanding for peculiar sentiments”, and frequently rejected attempts mainly from Washington to “reduce Russia to a regional power”.
The author blames domestic Russian developments and the “increasingly aggressive foreign policy of the Kremlin” for the deteriorating relations, and still concludes:
“It is exactly because of the long list of problems that Merkel and Putin were chained to each other.”
One of these is without doubt the situation in Afghanistan. On her visit to Moscow, Merkel said “it was a frustrating moment when the Taliban came back.”
In spite of Putin’s criticism towards the Western attempts to export democracy, Merkel asked the Russian president for support in the evacuation from Aghanistan, titled the Berliner Zeitung when reporting on the bilateral meeting.
In summary, the German press widely reported on conflict issues in the Greman-Russian relations, on the long past of personal relation between Merkel and Putin and hinted that mutual overlapping areas between the countries demand further dialogue and interaction.
The new German government’s approach from September on will be a major issue to watch.