Dr. Peter W. Schulze, Professor at Georg August University Goettingen
The meeting between Merkel and Putin in Sochi, her first trip for two years to Russia, was officially described as a bridge building attempt by the Chancellors office. One can only speculate, but the primary motive of Merkel’s visit was to calm the troubled waters ahead of the G20 summit, which will take place in the city of Hamburg in July. So, unsurprisingly, after receiving the requested assurances that Moscow will not use the Hamburg event as a political platform attacking Berlin’s dominant role in the Western sanction regime, but also looks forward to positive results. The meeting focused on the common hot spots, like human rights abuses, the Ukraine, and Syria. The meeting, to which Merkel arrived with empty hands, may have been determined by other more hidden factors. First, despite the obvious fact that the Trump presidency seems now to be completely under control of the established power groups in Washington, which stopped any surprise “reset” in foreign or security policies, Berlin is still nervous that some unforeseen could happen. The cozy relationship between Merkel and the Obama presidency, where Berlin ascended to the special junior partner of US-objectives in handling the Ukrainian crisis, is gone for sure.
Second, given the still not fully predictable US-presidency, both such uncertainties and the German national elections in September 2017, played a decisive role for Merkel’s visit. Not only the German media but the Western press in general, portrayed her as the only Western politician who could stand up against Putin, the personified evil whose intentions are to divide Europe and split the Atlantic Community. The well orchestrated election coup was successful. The German Social Democrats voted in the German Parliament together with the Christian Democrats and the Greens against a resolution of the oppositional Die Linke for a new German Eastern Policy based on Détente and arms control. Merkel’s visit was intended to neutralize existing notions in political circles of the SPD to revive the legendary German Eastern Policy of Willy Brandt and Egon Bahr which still is applauded by large layers of German population.
Of course, to expect a mounting consensus how to solve the current conflicts in the Ukraine or Syria was pointless. Moscow and Berlin stated completely different opinions over the cause of these conflicts. And the only positive indicator of the meeting was that both sides uttered readiness to stick to the Minsk II agreement, to condemn the use of chemical weapons in Syria.
Both leaders presided over the ruins of formerly intensive, friendly, cooperative and interest guided relations which even survived the wars in the Balkans’, the Kosovo 1999 and were to the benefit of the whole of Europe. The dreadful message for Europe is that former Partnership with Russia are now reduced to sheer neighborhood relations, which are still based and propelled by economic and technological factors, but which have no driving effect for a change in paradigm in German politics any more- at least as long as Merkel is in power.