Putin-Merkel Summit: Germany Makes the First Move

On August 18, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin met in Germany, discussing topical issues of international politics. In an interview with valdaiclub.com, Reinhard Krumm, head of the Friedrich Ebert Foundation Regional Office for Cooperation and Peace in Europe (Vienna), discussed the reasons why the summit was called, what its agenda was and whether Russia and the EU could a détente in their relations.

The range of “hot” topics currently discussed in the international politics is rather narrow. These include the denuclearization of North Korea, the nuclear deal with Iran, the war in Syria, and Ukraine, Krumm said. According to the expert, the latter issue is the real stumbling block preventing normalization of relations between Russia and the EU. “I think that Ukraine was the key topic of the negotiations. Every time someone wants to repair relations with Russia, the first question is ‘What about Ukraine?’ If Russia, Ukraine, and the EU do not take any steps on this issue, the situation will remain in a deadlock. Although Kurt Volker US Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations, said that Minsk-2 is a ‘dead issue’, none of the involved sides thinks so. Many European countries are, so to speak, fed up with the current European security situation in the context of the conflict in Ukraine.”

According to Krumm, the summit meeting in Germany was more about the EU-Russia relations as a whole rather than the Russia-Germany ties. “No doubt, the initiative is not Germany’s separate move. Especially Berlin is very much interested in a normalization of the relationship with Russia, but everything is done in coordination with the European Union. Therefore, France, Germany and the United Kingdom – as long as it is in the EU – are waiting for a signal on this issue.”

At the same time, there is a complicated triangle of the US-Russia-EU relations: the Europeans continue to be dependent on the Americans in security issues, NATO is the backbone of transatlantic security. At the same time Trump is short of declaring a trade war on Europe. It would be quite logical if the EU tried to improve its relations with Russia, even at a time the United States introduces new sanctions against Moscow. “Trump’s meeting with the Russian president must have been largely approved in Germany, but its results cannot be seen so far. A new wave of US sanctions is about to begin. Russia will probably want to respond to them, and this is disadvantageous for Germany.”

For the EU, the situation around the Trump administration is very complicated, Krumm said. “On the one hand, the initiative to have a Russia-US summit was good, but it is unclear what it can change and how president Trump can solve any issues, if Congress blocks everything. Therefore Germany feels responsible for initiating small moves. I think that Germany, since it works with France, Russia and Ukraine in the framework of the OSCE on solving the Ukrainian issue, is obliged to come up with ideas to start ending the crisis.”

According to the expert, the reason why it was proposed to hold the summit at this time of the year could be the relatively calm situation in world politics and a sort of stagnation on the hottest issues. “Why did it happen now? I cannot see a clear reason, except a banal one: nothing is going on, and the planned meeting can be done in a quite moment of world politics. But seriously: the Russian president has not been in Germany for a while. The meeting could be a continuation on a higher level after the recent visit of the Chief of the Russian General Staff Gerasimov and Foreign Minister Lavrov.” At the time the German media did very little reporting. It is interesting to observe, says Krumm, “in how far the media will cover this meeting”.

Views expressed are of individual Members and Contributors, rather than the Club's, unless explicitly stated otherwise.