As Donald Trump shakes up the global order, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is being pushed closer toward a more predictable partner in Moscow.
When President Vladimir Putin hosted Merkel in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Friday, both leaders did their best to keep tensions in the background compared with a year ago, when they clashed over Ukraine and Russian election meddling. Now, they’re aligned in trying to shield businesses from US sanctions, and rebuffing American objections to a Russian gas pipeline to Germany.
Even so, neither leader unveiled any immediate policy breakthrough.
“If you want to solve problems, you have to talk to each other,” Merkel said alongside Putin at a news conference midway through the talks. “There also are points where we agree, which is good, considering all the issues on which we don’t agree.”
“Even in the most difficult times, we never lost contact with each other,” Putin said. “Life goes on, develops, new opportunities arise.”
Rapprochement with Russia is now a core policy objective in Berlin, according to a senior German official with knowledge of the chancellery’s strategy. The shift in sentiment, underscoring why Russia would have meddled in the 2016 election campaign to favour the Republican wild card, is a consequence of the actions of a US president who has strained the long-standing alliance with Europe.
While Merkel and Putin aren’t about to become best of friends, they’re seasoned survivors of geopolitical turmoil who share a contentious but well-honed relationship. Germany, for example, doesn’t intend to ease European Union sanctions on Russia over its incursions into Ukraine. The Kremlin is still relishing the entente, regarding it as an opening to strengthen its influence with Germany and Europe more broadly.
“Putin likes the irritation that Trump has created with Europe,” said Josef Janning, head of the Berlin office of the European Council on Foreign Relations. “In his eyes, I think, the development is quite positive.” The Russian leader tried to intimidate Merkel in the past, said Janning, “but she’s still around — like he is.”
For Putin, it’s an opportunity to chip away at his diplomatic isolation from Europe since Russia was dropped from the Group of Eight in 2014. For Merkel, the stakes are as much about projecting European values in a globalized age as about protecting German economic interests in Iran and Russia.
That includes Nord Stream 2, which Putin and Merkel have a joint interest in completing over US objections. The Trump administration has threatened sanctions on companies working on the pipeline because more Russian gas would bypass Ukraine on its way to Germany.
Putin rebuffed the threat of US sanctions over Nord Stream 2, saying Trump is “promoting the interests of his business’ to sell American liquefied natural gas to Europe. Merkel said that while she wants to shield the pipeline project from politics, Ukraine needs Russian “guarantees” that it’ll remain a gas transit country.
Merkel to seek China as free-trade ally on Beijing trip
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she’ll renew efforts to enlist China as an ally on free trade when she visits leaders including President Xi Jinping in Beijing next week.
It’ll be Merkel’s first trip to the world’s second-biggest economy since she began her fourth term in March. While Europe and China have points of friction from investment
reciprocity to human rights, they’re finding common cause in rebuffing US President Donald Trump’s tariff threats against both.
“China and Germany are committed to the rules of the World Trade Organization, yet we will also talk about reciprocal access in trade and intellectual property issues,” Merkel said in her weekly podcast. “And we want to strengthen multilateralism.”
Merkel plans to meet Xi and other Chinese leaders on May 24, followed by a stop in Shenzhen to tour sites including a Siemens AG facility.
She may strike a more reserved tone than French President Emmanuel Macron, who visited China in January and said European nations must stand up to China’s global reach.