Merkel and Putin Sound Pragmatic Notes After Years of Tension

BERLIN — The personal relationship between Chancellor Angela Merkel of Germany and President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia is usually boiled right down to sure anecdotes: her put-downs about his position within the Okay.G.B., his makes an attempt to rattle her by bringing his massive black Labrador to a gathering, realizing her concern of canine.

But the 2 international locations’ lengthy historical past of alienation and rapprochement was additionally at play when Ms. Merkel and Mr. Putin met for 3 and a half hours on Saturday on the German authorities’s villa in Meseberg, exterior Berlin. It was their second assembly in three months.

The two leaders concluded the talks with out issuing statements. Before the assembly started, they informed reporters that bringing stability to jap Ukraine and Syria and addressing the long run of the Iran nuclear deal have been the highest points on their agenda.

Analysts had considered the assembly as an opportunity to place relations between Berlin and Moscow on extra pragmatic floor after years of growing tensions. Mr. Putin appeared to counsel the identical in his feedback beforehand.

“We are prepared to discuss problems in Russian-German relations as well as relevant international questions,” he stated, including that his nation “attaches great meaning to mutually beneficial cooperation with Germany in political, economic and other spheres.”

In specific, Mr. Putin stated, he needed Germany’s assist in rebuilding Syria’s infrastructure so refugees would be capable to return to the nation, which has been devastated by greater than seven years of battle. Russia has offered army backing for years to prop up President Bashar al-Assad of Syria towards the insurgent teams looking for his demise, serving to him maintain his grip on energy.

“We must restore the supply of water and the sewage system,” together with entry to medication, Mr. Putin stated. “These are the most basic things in which I think everyone is interested, including Europe.”

Ms. Merkel additionally pointed to a necessity for larger cooperation, although she instructed Moscow had a specific burden.

“Germany, but especially Russia, as a member of the U.N. Security Council, has a responsibility to find solutions,” Ms. Merkel stated. “I am of the opinion that controversial issues can only be addressed in dialogue, and through dialogue.”

Bilateral points specializing in vitality and the Nord Stream 2 gasoline pipeline have been additionally up for dialogue.

Here’s a take a look at the problems that outline and affect German-Russian ties and the leaders’ discussions.

Are Germany and Russia buddies?

The two international locations may very well be described as the last word worldwide “frenemies,” with financial, cultural and mental ties reaching again centuries. Since the 18th century, they’ve cycled by means of a sequence of conflicts and reconciliations, most not too long ago World War II and the Cold War.

Throughout the Soviet period, Germany was Moscow’s most necessary buying and selling accomplice, and many Germans view the robust, optimistic ties to Moscow as a key contributor to the tip of the Cold War and German reunification. When the Berlin Wall fell, Germany reached out to Moscow, partly to assist the departing Soviet bloc international locations combine into the European Union, not solely strengthening political and financial ties, but in addition investing in civil society.

But a break in relations that began with the Russian authorities’ repressive response to public protests in 2011 and 2012 worsened in 2014, when Russia annexed Crimea and supported rebels in jap Ukraine.

Ms. Merkel and Mr. Putin have nonetheless maintained common contact. In May, the chancellor visited the Russian president at his summer time residence in Sochi and she informed reporters she noticed Saturday’s assembly as a continuation of these talks.

Susan Stewart, a senior affiliate with the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, cautioned that the leaders’ assembly in Germany shouldn’t be considered as a basic shift in German-Russian relations. Instead, it mirrored hope that the 2 sides might compromise on Syria, vitality and different key points, whereas sustaining their variations over Russia’s position within the battle in Ukraine.

What the international locations needed from one another

Both Germany and Russia have issues tied to Syria.

For Ms. Merkel, the difficulty is home. Her choice to permit a couple of million individuals — most of them refugees from the conflict in Syria — to use for asylum in Germany has been met with increasing resistance from the public and from her own government.

For Mr. Putin, it’s not being quite able to find a solution to Syria’s civil war. .

Both leaders may benefit from discovering a manner to make sure adequate political stability in Syria to permit Germany to start encouraging refugees to return, whereas Mr. Putin is looking for assist from Berlin and the European Union to assist rebuild the nation, stated Stefan Meister of the German Council on Foreign Relations.

“It is in the domestic political interest of the German government that Syrian refugees be able to return to a stable Syria,” Mr. Meister stated.

A typical curiosity might convey the international locations nearer after a interval of deteriorating relations.

Russia had been stunned by Germany’s willingness to throw its full weight behind American sanctions on Moscow over its annexation of Crimea, its involvement within the pro-Kremlin insurgency in jap Ukraine and the downing of Malaysia Airlines Flight 17.

The transfer made clear to Russian leaders that the particular relationship they believed they’d shared with Berlin was over. Soon afterward, Germany discovered itself within the cross-hairs of Russian cyberattacks and a marketing campaign within the Russian information media that precipitated Germany to plunge in Russian public opinion.

“If you look at the image of Germany — and Merkel in particular — in Russian political discourse, you will see that it really has deteriorated tremendously,” stated Sabine Fischer, head researcher on Eastern Europe on the German Institute for International and Security Affairs.

A survey cited on Friday by Vedomosti, a Russian enterprise every day, mirrored this development, displaying approval of Ms. Merkel amongst Russians plummeting to 15 % in August 2016 from 60 % in February 2011.

Is Germany a ‘captive of Russia,’ as President Trump says?

Germany imports about 40 % of its pure gasoline from Russia, based on authorities statistics. That is greater than every other European Union nation, however lower than the 60 % to 70 % that President Trump cited when he accused Germany of being a “captive” of Russia at a NATO summit assembly final month.

“That comment clearly taps into a stereotype in Washington that because of its economic ties, Germany is ‘weaker’ on Russia,” stated Derek Chollet, an adviser on safety and protection coverage with the German Marshall Fund in Washington.

On Saturday, Mr. Putin rattled off a listing of statistics that talk to the energy of the 2 international locations’ financial ties, amongst them a 22 % improve in commerce in 2017, to $55 billion. He additionally addressed the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which was on the coronary heart of Mr. Trump’s declare, insisting that it was wanted to “meet the European economy’s growing demand for energy resources.”

“I want to emphasize again that Nord Stream 2 is a solely economic project and it closes no opportunities for transit shipments via Ukrainian territory,” Mr. Putin stated.

Former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s shut relationship to Mr. Putin and his choice to hitch the board of Russia’s state oil firm, Rosneft, has bolstered that notion that Germany is beholden to Russia.

But Ms. Merkel has proven a willingness to attract a line, together with her choices to assist sanctions towards Russia in 2015 and to hitch the coordinated response to the poisoning in Britain this spring.

“My sense is Merkel, who in her own way makes clear that she understands the Russians and Putin as a type as well as anyone, has no illusions about Russia or Putin and their motives,” Mr. Chollet stated.

Lincoln Pigman contributed reporting from Moscow.

A model of this text seems in print on , on Page A14 of the New York version with the headline: Hanging Over Merkel and Putin, a History of Distrust and Reconciliation. Order Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

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