Merkel and Putin talk Syria, Ukraine and Nord Stream 2 – but meeting ends with no agreements

Russian president had earlier urged Europe to help rebuild war-torn Syria

Colin Drury
Sunday 19 August 2018 15:48
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German chancellor Angela Merkel speaks next to Russian president Vladimir Putin at Meseberg Palace
German chancellor Angela Merkel speaks next to Russian president Vladimir Putin at Meseberg Palace

German chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian president Vladimir Putin discussed the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine as well as the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline during talks on Saturday.

But the meeting, held just outside Berlin, ended with no agreements being signed off and no obvious progress made.

Ties between the two countries have been strained since Russia’s annexation of the Crimea region of Ukraine in 2014 – and the summit had only been intended to “check the watches”, a Kremlin spokesperson said.

High on the agenda had been Syria after Mr Putin had, hours before the pair met, urged Europe to help rebuild the war-torn country.

“We need to strengthen the humanitarian effort,” he said. “By that, I mean above all, humanitarian aid to the Syrian people, and help the regions where refugees living abroad can return to.”

Standing together ahead of the talks at the 18th-century Meseberg Palace, Ms Merkel said she and Mr Putin had already discussed the issue of constitutional reforms and possible elections when they last met in the Russian resort of Sochi in May. “Germany, but especially Russia, as a member of the UN security council, has a responsibility to find solutions,” she told reporters.

The two leaders both said the Nord Stream 2 pipeline – which will supply Germany with vast amounts of Russian gas – would not be derailed by American ire over the project. US president Donald Trump has repeatedly said the deal makes Germany too reliant on Russian resources, and has appeared to insist Berlin should buy American instead.

“That’s why it is necessary to take measures against possible non-competitive and illegal attacks from third countries in order to complete this project,” said Mr Putin’s spokesperson Dmitry Peskov, although without explaining what such measures might entail.

Speaking on the same subject, Ms Merkel also underlined her expectation that the pipeline would not be used to squeeze the Ukrainian economy or lever political concessions.

Nord Stream 2 will bypass the central European country by going directly under the Baltic sea, meaning Ukraine – which is the historical transit route for such gas – would lose out on millions of pounds worth of transit rents.

Mr Putin brushed over the issue. “The main thing is that the Ukrainian transit, which is traditional for us, meets economic demands,” he said. “Nord Stream 2 is exclusively an economic project.”

Ms Merkel also said she planned to raise human rights issues with Mr Putin.

“We will of course discuss relevant human rights issues today,” said Ms Merkel. “I believe that controversial topics can be solved through dialogue.”

The two leaders took no questions before heading off for the meeting.

Mr Putin had arrived in Germany on Saturday evening after a stop at an Austrian vineyard for the wedding of the country’s foreign minister Karin Kneissl and entrepreneur Wolfgang Meilinger.

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