_ Alexander Rahr, scientific director of the German-Russian forum. Berlin, May 3rd 2017.
On May 2, Vladimir Putin met with Angela Merkel, Federal Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany, at his residence in Sochi. Despite the fact that sensations and breakthroughs did not happen, both Merkel and Putin were trying to make the first steps towards normalizing relations.
There were no sensations and breakthroughs. It was a routine working meeting – a meeting that was to take place. Nevertheless, this visit is important for the German Chancellor, who will hold parliamentary elections in September. During the election campaign, Merkel can appear before the German electorate and the world community as a first-class diplomat who is able to talk and bargain with world leaders.
She visited Trump and tried to soften his position regarding NATO and the EU, and seems to have succeeded. Now she met with Putin and agreed that the Normandy format and the Minsk process must remain in force, and Russia will not put sticks on the wheels of the G-20 summit agenda in Hamburg. On the contrary, Russia is inclined to cooperate on such issues as environment, energy policy and digitalization of the economy (this is the Chancellor’s favorite topic). In this sense, Merkel can leave Sochi peacefully, the summit is saved, and there will be a continuation of fruitful negotiations.
It is noteworthy that during the press conference Merkel began earning points on criticizing Russia. She mentioned that Russia can wage a hybrid war against Germany, criticized the situation in Chechnya, where the rights of minorities are violated. She had to say all this, since it was addressed especially for the very influential liberal press of Germany, which would have booed her if she had not done this in Sochi.
But Putin, I think, understands all this perfectly. He bit back, telling German journalists – “write down exactly my words and pass them to your readers”, hinting that he knows that often the western (and not only the western) media write only half-truths. And there is an opportunity to write the full truth, how Russia sees the problem of Ukraine.
For the German businessmen, who expected from Merkel easing sanctions against Russia, the meeting was a definite disappointment. Merkel made it clear that nothing happens until the Minsk process moves forward. It would be a sensation if Merkel in some way changed the rhetoric and said that the Minsk agreements are not being implemented, because Kiev does not provide the promised autonomy to the two unrecognized republics of Donbass. Since she does not do this, Ukraine does not advance in the implementation of the Minsk agreements. However, a full-scale resumption of hostilities is not expected.
What is the problem in relations between Russia and the European Union? The fact is that Russia uses the language of classical diplomacy, the language of interests: we the Russians have our own interests, you the Germans have your own. As for Europe (and Merkel in particular), the approaches of values prevail there – everyone sees everything only through the prism of human rights. There are no economic interests, strategies, there is one main thing – you should respect human rights and move to democracy. If yes – you will be accepted as strategic partner, if not – you will be isolated.
This is a Western approach. It is built on the power of morality, which, of course, terribly annoys other partners who do not belong to such system of values. This is the main line of conflict between Russia and the West today. And Merkel as the leader of the West became in this respect the main promoter of the policy focused on the values approach.
Both Merkel and Putin tried to make the first steps towards normalizing relations. Let’s look at the next stage: the meeting of world leaders in Hamburg will take place in two months. Merkel and Putin will be joined there by the leader of China, whose positions are well known, as well as by Trump, who will come to this meeting for the first time, and also by the new French president. We will open (or will not open) there a new chapter of the world and European politics.