Angela Merkel, Vladimir Putin tackle tough global topics

Chancellor Angela Merkel has received Russian President Vladimir Putin on his first bilateral visit to Germany since 2014. Their agenda listed Ukraine, Syria and piped gas for Europe but she dampened expectations.

Chancellor Angela Merkel said Saturday she expected "no special" outcomes from her largely private "working meeting" with Putin at Meseberg Palace, a German state guest house an hour's drive north of Berlin.

"Controversy" was likely, Merkel said, adding her main goal was to maintain a "permanent dialogue" with Russia, despite "very serious conflicts worldwide."

Read more: German troops to spearhead NATO exercise in Norway

The two leaders had last met in Sochi in southern Russia in May.

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DW News | 18.08.2018

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Putin on arrival in Meseberg called on Europe to assist with refugee returns and reconstruction in war-scarred Syria, where Russia backs President Bashar Assad.

Merkel responded that Syria needed constitutional reform and elections.

Next topic - Ukraine

The German chancellor said she favored the stationing of UN peacekeepers to oversee ceasefire bids in eastern Ukraine under German and French mediation.

But, according to Putin, there had been "absolutely no progress" for the region where Russia backs Ukrainian separatists, and in 2014 annexed Crimea.

Winter fuel for Europe

On Russian natural gas deliveries to Europe, Putin said he did not exclude the possibility that Ukraine could still earn from existing transit pipes once a new Baltic Sea project was completed next year.

"The main thing is that this transit through Ukraine, which has tradition, meets economic requirements," Putin said.

Nordstream 2 will carry gas from Russia along the seabed directly to Germany, but Washington has warned that Europe will be too dependent on Russia.

Merkel said, from her point of view, Ukraine must still play a role in gas transits to Europe "even when Nordstream 2 exists."

EU sanctions ineffective?

Putin, without referring to EU sanctions — like similar American clamps — on Russia, said Germany remained a "leading" trade partner and had some 5,000 firms, providing 270,000 jobs in Russia.

He claimed bilateral Russian-German trade volume had grown by 22 percent over the past year, with German investments in Russia amounting to $18 billion (€16 billion).

Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel: Through good times and bad

Up-and-coming leaders

In 2002, Angela Merkel was the head of what was then Germany's main opposition party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU). Putin was the fresh-faced president of a new and modern Russia. After meeting Putin in the Kremlin, Merkel reportedly joked to her aides that she had passed the "KGB test" of holding his gaze — an allusion to Putin's earlier career in the Soviet security agency.

Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel: Through good times and bad

New chancellor in town

Putin had built a friendship with Angela Merkel's predecessor, Gerhard Schröder, and the two men remain close to this day. By late 2005, however, it was clear that Merkel was set to dethrone the Social Democrat Schröder. Talking to Merkel in Russia's Berlin embassy, Putin pledged to expand the ties between the two countries. Merkel described the dialogue as "very open."

Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel: Through good times and bad

A friendly ear for Putin

About a year later, Putin shared his impressions of the woman who had since become Germany's chancellor: "We don't know each other on a very personal level, but I'm impressed by her ability to listen," he told Germany's public broadcaster MDR from Dresden, adding that listening was a rare skill among female politicians.

Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel: Through good times and bad

A gap in Merkel's armor

The German chancellor has a well-known fear of dogs. Still, Putin let his black lab Konni wonder around the Sochi venue when he welcomed Merkel there in January 2007. Was he trying to intimidate her? Merkel seems to think so: "I believe the Russian president knew very well that I wasn't thrilled by the idea of meeting his dog, but he still brought it with him," the chancellor said in 2015.

Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel: Through good times and bad

Too thin-skinned on media

By 2012, Vladimir Putin had taken on a harsher course towards the press and political dissenters. When asked about media freedom while in Saint Petersburg, Merkel responded with a barely hidden jab at her fellow leader: "If I were to get sulky every time I opened a newspaper, I wouldn't last three days as chancellor," she said.

Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel: Through good times and bad

Talks continue into the ice age

Relations between Moscow and the West took a steep plunge after the annexation of Crimea in 2014. However, Putin told German media that he still maintained a "business-like relationship" with the German chancellor. "I trust her. She is a very open person. She, like anyone else, is subject to certain limitations, but she is honestly attempting to solve the crises," he told Bild, a German daily.

Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel: Through good times and bad

No insult intended but ...

"I don't mean to insult anybody, but Ms. Merkel's statement is an outburst of a long-accumulated anger over limited sovereignty," Putin told the press in Saint Petersburg in 2017, commenting on an election campaign address that the German leader had given in Munich. Merkel's so-called "beer tent" speech saw her urge Europeans to rely on themselves amidst disputes with US President Donald Trump.

Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel: Through good times and bad

Rolling with it

Just a month after Putin's remarks on sovereignty, the two leaders were photographed talking at a G-20 summit in Hamburg. While the topic remains a mystery, both Merkel and Putin used strong gestures. At one point, as Putin wags his finger Merkel looks away from him and rolls her eyes. The moment quickly went viral.

Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel: Through good times and bad

'We have to talk to each other'

When Merkel arrived in Sochi in 2018, Putin welcomed her with a bouquet of flowers. An offer of peace? An act of gallantry? Sexism? The rationale didn't really matter in the big picture. Appearing alongside Putin, Merkel said dialogue needed to go on. "Even if there are grave differences of opinion on some issues, we have to talk to each other, because otherwise you just sink into silence."

ipj/ng (Reuters, dpa, AFP)

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