What brought Putin and Merkel together

For the first time since the start of the Ukraine crisis German Chancellor Angela Merkel has received Russian President Vladimir Putin for talks. At Meseberg castle outside Berlin they discussed Syria, Ukraine and Nord Stream 2 for over three hours. Details about any agreements have not yet been disclosed. What interests were Merkel and Putin pursuing at their meeting?

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Izvestia (RU) /

A chance for a historic reconstruction

The meeting between Merkel and Putin was a serious attempt to reach an agreement on the Syria conflict, political scientist Alexander Rahr writes in Izvestia:

“The most likely outcome will be the start of a mutually beneficial collaboration aimed at finding a peaceful solution for Syria. ... Such cooperation could save Merkel's chancellorship, because it would give the refugees who came to Germany a concrete prospect of returning home. ... If it works, it will be a huge success, because restoring order in a place where all has been destroyed is something that happens very seldom. One need only look at Afghanistan and Iraq, where few things work. Now Russia and Germany have a real chance to get things moving in a positive direction.”

Der Standard (AT) /

Kremlin boss caught in the Syria trap

The meeting between Putin and Merkel has made it clear that Moscow needs help to reconstruct Syria, Der Standard concurs, adding that Europe must see this as an opportunity:

“The Assad regime's idea of only allowing friends or at least neutral parties - Russia, Iran, China - to invest and earn money in Syria is unrealistic. ... Around 400 billion US dollars are needed. Putin rightly pointed out to Merkel that the Europeans also have an interest in Syria's reconstruction - keyword: refugees. But he is also caught in the Syria trap. And this offers an opportunity to convince Russia to let the others have their say in the political process. Only then can - and should - the money begin to flow.”

Zeit Online (DE) /

A pragmatic rapprochement

Zeit Online explains what is bringing Merkel and Putin together right now:

Punitive tariffs, trade barriers, sanctions against certain projects. Merkel and Putin share very specific interests, and that's a good incentive for talks. The same goes for Syria. The chancellor wants to prevent dictator Bashar al-Assad's offensives from sparking a new flood of refugees. Putin has influence over Assad. And he knows that under certain circumstances the Germans would be willing to help with Syria's reconstruction. So no one should misunderstand this Russo-German rapprochement as a love affair. Or as a change of policy. Rather, it's a balance of interests with specific cooperation goals.”

Lidové noviny (CZ) /

Putin as an alternative to Trump

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas gave the best explanation for why Merkel is cosying up to Putin, Lidové noviny comments:

“'We have to prepare for changes in US foreign policy in the long term', the minister said. According to a survey carried out by YouGov, 64 percent of Germans see Donald Trump as a danger to world peace, while only 16 percent think the same about Vladimir Putin. As for Russia, it's doing all it can to turn this mood in Germany to its advantage. ... The Merkel government is looking for alternatives in anticipation of a time when Trump's America or the America after Trump can no longer guarantee security.”

De Volkskrant (NL) /

A successful Europe tour

De Volkskrant's Germany correspondent Sterre Lindhout comments on Putin having flown directly from the wedding of Austria's foreign minister to Merkel:

“It raises the question of what is an effective foreign policy in times of geopolitical muscle-flexing. Dancing in front of hundreds people filming with their smartphones in Austria or tough talks in a sealed-off palace garden in Brandenburg? One thing is for sure: Putin's delicate dance steps in Styria will remain longer in the collective memory than the cool-down with Angela Merkel. Yet it can't be ruled out that this meeting was a step on the path to a different, perhaps better relationship between Russia and the EU.”