Vladimir Putin has managed to take advantage of Germany’s geopolitical rift with the United States, an observer has said.
On Saturday, President Putin talked for four hours with Angela Merkel – her first visit to Russia since May 2018 – on an array of issues including Iran, Libya, Syria, Ukraine, and gas politics.
Their joint presser at the Kremlin sent signals that Germany had found common ground with Russia where it had failed to do so with the US.
“Merkel and Putin have been obviously quite close on some issues,” says Christian Schweiger, chair of comparative European governance systems at Chemnitz University of Technology. “You might have seen that the news coverage has already highlighted that Merkel is basically supporting Putin in two areas where the United States, particularly Trump against.”
Siding on Iran and pipeline
Those two issues are the Iran nuclear deal and Nord Stream 2, the oil pipeline the US would rather Russia not finish.
So far this year, the word “Iran” has topped the global agenda, written in big bold letters. Trump’s withdrawal from the 2015 pact, which had curbed Iran’s nuclear capabilities, and the re-introduction of US sanctions have triggered a stand-off that culminated into Iran effectively abandoning its nuclear commitments last week.
Yet still, the remaining signatories – which include Germany and Russia – were given assurances that Iran would return to the deal if US sanctions were lifted. Back at the Kremlin, Merkel declared that Putin and her were “united” in their understanding that the agreement should be preserved.
“Like Putin, Merkel is quite cooperative and open towards maintaining this deal,” argues Christian Schweiger. “And we all know that Trump is against it. And Trump thinks that there is no way of continuing to maintain this and negotiate this with Iran. So this is quite remarkable and shows in the way that Germany under Merkel is bold enough to stand even against its closest ally in the trans-Atlantic alliance, the United States. Merkel is willing to contradict Trump publicly.”
Chancellor Merkel also repeated her mantra that the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline will benefit Germany in particular and Europe in general. The recent US sanctions against companies involved in the project are expected to delay its completion, so the pipeline is expected to go online in late 2020 or early 2021, according to Vladimir Putin.
As some European countries, like Poland and Slovakia, are skeptical of Nord Stream 2 because they fear losing natural gas transit, Christian Schweiger believes this could lead to a further “divide” in Europe.
Looking for peace in Libya
Merkel and Putin have also called for international diplomatic effort to resolve the heightening tensions in Libya, where military commander Khalifa Haftar had been trying to oust the internationally-recognised government in Tripoli.
Germany and Russia have both been acting as mediators in the conflict. During his visit to Turkey this visit, Vladimir Putin made a call for a ceasefire together with Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Angela Merkel endorsed that initiative and announced peace talks to be held in Berlin.
Schweiger notes: “For Putin, I think this development is quite positive because he’s obviously managed to get out of the isolation that he’s been in for quite some time. If he has Germany on his side, at least on some of the major issues he’s interested in, Nord Stream 2 is one of the important issues for him.”
“So is openness towards his allies in the Middle East and Iran is, of course, a relative ally for the Russians.”
Schweiger predicts that Angela Merkel may face some criticism from her own CDU party’s ranks for contradicting Donald Trump on Nord Stream 2 and the nuclear deal, but will have the backing of coalition partners and the opposition for the same reason.
“I think Putin will see this as a victory,” Schweiger adds. “It remains to be seen how this plays out for Merkel.”