German Chancellor Angela Merkel lost no time in visiting the Kremlin immediately after her trip to the White House. Again, the expectations were high. And Merkel seems to have fulfilled them, as Cornelia Rabitz of the Russian Service of the Deutsche Welle finds.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow
Merkel’s Moscow visit was not only dogged by the errors of omission and commission of her predecessor Gerhard Schröder, she was also expected to show moral courage by demanding that the Kremlin focus on the rule of law and reduce Russia’s constitutional shortcomings in that regard. A further expectation was that the contours of the new coalition government’s Russia policy should become visible during the chancellor’s first visit to the Kremlin.
Well, both sides seem to have found more time for each other than originally planned, and Merkel desisted from all-too-open accusations and moral lectures. But she did talk eye to eye and said her say. In any case, she is fully aware that Germany is not in a position to play the political tutor to Russia or to any other country. No male bonhomie in shirtsleeves as in the days of Schröder, but a sober, perhaps less spectacular kind of pragmatism German-Russian relations might well have been in need of.
German media had set the standard: had Ms. Merkel talked to her Kremlin host about Chechnya or not? Nothing short of that would do. Well, she did, and not just Chechnya, she talked about the controversial law regulating the work of NGO’s, she talked about secure energy supplies and Iran.
And still Merkel managed to make her mark. Her predecessor Gerhard Schröder had considered the German-Russian relations purely from the point of view of big business. No wonder accusations were a-plenty that Schröder tended to gloss over the glaring defects of his bosom friend’s domestic policy.
Merkel was more direct. She met members of Russian civil society, dedicated people, and spoke Russian to them – which naturally eased the atmosphere further. She didn’t limit her visit to the conference room and the banquet table, neither did she confront her Russian hosts with impossible demands. - The main decision was that both sides would remain in touch and there would be more items on the agenda for such talks in the future, exactly as Merkel might have wanted. Which means that any future agenda would include human rights and press freedom as well as the crisis in the Caucasus. German-Russian relations wasn’t changing its course, merely extending its range: that was the message.
End of the shirtsleeves bonhomie and the beginning of something new: that’s Merkel’s new approach. She has avoided political toadying as well as undiplomatic umbrage. She has been realistic, practical and in the final analysis – displayed her independence.
But her visit was also a signal for all those in Russia who are still waiting for more human rights, rule of law and freedom of the press.