_ Reinhard Krumm, Head of Vienna-based Regional Office of Security and Peace in Europe (ROSPE), Friedrich-Ebert-Foundation. Vienna, May 3rd 2017.
The meeting of Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Sochi showed, that despite many contradictions the dialogue between the two countries continues. Until the parliamentary elections in Germany neither side will take any significant foreign policy initiatives and maintaining the status quo is the best option in spite of all its shortcomings.
How would you characterize the overall tone and nature of the talks between Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel in Sochi?
The fact that the meeting took place is already a good event. The atmosphere was businesslike, nothing more to say. Positions are very different now – concerning both Ukraine and Syria. But, maybe, this is the maximum that is now possible. If the meeting did not take place, it could be worse. It is necessary to talk to each other.
Critics say – why, what for? But in another way it is impossible, if there are so different positions. And the meeting was a good initiative of both politicians.
What tasks did Merkel set for herself when she went to Russia?
For German politics, it is very important now to let Russia know that the current status quo is the best option. Including Ukraine, despite the complexity of the situation there. So far it will not be better: there is no such energy, no idea to develop some other plan, another approach.
Therefore, probably, by her visit Merkel wanted to say the following: we must adhere to a certain status quo, the Minsk-2 agreement should remain; we’ll continue to work. There is no other alternative. Moreover, there will be a second round of elections in France soon, after that – elections in Germany, and therefore Russia has now no great interest to start something new.
Thus, the status quo remains. We used to think that it is not good, and now it seems that it is not so bad. But this is, of course, a temporary situation. After all the elections, in autumn, other opportunities will appear.
Why do Merkel and other Western politicians avoid mentioning Kiev’s responsibility for compliance with the Minsk agreements, while stressing that there will be no progress on sanctions if they are not fully respected?
I believe that the German side still talks about Ukraine – there were such talks, where it was stressed that Ukraine should do everything on its part. But the Chancellor’s position is such that Russia as a big country should do more than now.
In fact, Ukraine is just a symptom of the crisis. Its root is in the other place. This is a misunderstanding of each other for the past 25 years, a different vision of what happened after 1991. But now – at least until the autumn of 2017 – talk about this is untimely.
Are there points of coincidence between Russia and Germany, the moments where Russia and Germany (or more broadly Russia and the European Union) have similar positions?
In Germany and the EU there is an understanding that serious issues (Syria, fight against terrorism, etc.) cannot be solved without Russia – this is a common task. Plus the trade. The paradigm “From Vladivostok to Lisbon”, the common human and economic space, is still relevant.
But, from the German point of view, the situation in Ukraine greatly hinders the solution of these issues. Perhaps Merkel hoped that Russia has some initiatives on this matter, and Russia, in turn, probably thought that Germany has such initiatives. Unfortunately, it is not the case.