Russia's relations with the West have deteriorated significantly over the Ukrainian crisis, prompting a round of economic sanctions against Russia. Earlier Angela Merkel canceled the talks with President Putin at an investment forum in Sochi. What will it take for the West and Russia to start talking again? Agree or Disagree discusses the topic with Sergei Utkin, the head of Department of Strategic Assessment at the Center for Situation Analysis at the Russian Academy of Sciences and Moritz Rudolf, a research associate at Merics, the Mercator Institute for China Studies based in Berlin.
Tune in to find out what the future holds for Russia-Germany relationship and what to expect from the Forum.
Why is the German side not using the venues for promoting a dialog and just discussing things?
Moritz Rudolf: I think it is important to focus on the common interests between Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin. And I think it is a long-term strategic outlook. And in that regard I think that there would be a possibility for Germany and Russia to talk. I think, maybe, the refusal is just because some issues have not been resolved yet. But I think if both sides reconsider that their broader objectives are, it would also be in the interest of Russia to move closer to Germany. And I think then, it would be possible.
There is an opinion that China could be a mediator between the two.
Moritz Rudolf: I think this is a wishful thinking. I think it is not in the best interest of China for doing that, because right now, given the situation of bad relations between Russia and Europe, for China this is actually quite well. Europe and Russia, they are both trying to improve the relations and the conditions are turning better and better for China. Just look at the agreements that were signed in May and now on October 13th in Moscow and Shanghai. Those are favourable conditions for China. And it is Germany and Russia that are trying to get China on their side.
So, for that matter it is easy for China. They don’t have to make a clear decision. They are continuing the good relations with Russia, they are strengthening them. But to some extent Russia is turning more and more into a junior partner, especially in the Central Asia. And I think for Russia and for Germany this is not in the best interests.
Do you agree that China is gaining from this situation?
Sergey Utkin: I think in a bit different direction. I do agree that there is a geopolitical context and we should keep that in mind. But speaking about the worsening of the relationship, the cause for the worsening of this relationship is not what is happening between Russia and Germany and it has not much to do with China, if anything. It has to do with the situation in Ukraine.
So, if the situation in Ukraine is showing the signs of de-escalation and we see that the military conflict is finally ended, and the sides of the conflict go towards a permanent solution that could at least help the people who live in the conflict region to have a decent living – this is the way forward and this would bring the relations between Russia and Germany back on track. If this doesn’t happen, if the situation in Ukraine gets worse and worse, I'm afraid that any kind of mediation between Russia and Germany wouldn’t help.
The Asia and Europe forum in Milan on the 16-17th of October, what do you expect from this forum?
Moritz Rudolf: I think on Thursday, it is mostly formal meetings and I think there is nothing to expect there. That would be generally about the millennium goals and about climate change issues. But on Friday morning there is a retreat session of three hours, and it is definitely possible that Angela Merkel and President Putin will be able to talk informally together, without any cameras. I think this is actually a good chance to get to a better situation.
How important do you think this venue is in reestablishing the dialog?
Sergey Utkin: I think it is important, because if you lack trust between the leaders, you cannot achieve anything, especially in the crisis situation. So, you have to have them sit and talk directly to each other. This will be a good occasion for this. And we already have a lot of proposals on the table in terms of how to pacify the conflict at least, if not to resolve it completely. We had a proposal by the Russian and American experts based on the international presence in the crisis region under the auspices of the OSCE, of the UN. And if you have the international observation, if you have the international attempts to bring the sides to the round table, this is the right way to eventually have a decent solution for everybody.