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Europe

Opinion: Moscow Should Listen to Merkel's Message

Chancellor Merkel was openly critical of Russian actions in the Caucasus conflict during talks with President Medvedev. DW's Ingo Mannteufel says Moscow would do well to heed the tough yet nuanced message.

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Nobody could have guessed that German Chancellor Angela's Merkel's visit to the Black Sea resort of Sochi for talks with Russian President Dimitry Medvedev, planned weeks ago, would turn into such an important meeting.

Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili provided the trigger when he attempted to win back the Moscow-backed rebel region of South Ossetia with military force. Russia didn't just strike back at the Georgian attackers but also used the occasion to invade the country by pushing deep into key Georgian towns with tanks and artillery.

Frank words

Ingo Mannteufel

Ingo Mannteufel

It was this military reaction of Moscow's that Chancellor Merkel criticized as "disproportionate" after meeting with Medvedev. Merkel urged Russia to immediately implement the six-point French-brokered peace plan and to withdraw troops from Georgia proper in the same unambiguous yet diplomatic manner. In typical fashion, Medvedev justified Russia's actions, yet he would do well to heed Merkel's nuanced message.

Instead of scrapping Merkel's visit to Sochi -- as German opposition politicians had demanded -- the fact that it took place is a sign of the good cooperation with Russia that the German government is striving for.

Merkel used the visit to underline that it is important for her to keep talking to Russia even in difficult times. That is not a given if you look at the reactions of some other EU and NATO member states.

Indirect warnings

At the same time, Medvedev and the Russian leadership should not assume that German foreign policy will always react in a constructive and ready-to-compromise manner toward Russia simply because the two countries have robust economic ties. The German-Russian relationship is by all means fragile and prone to change.

That's what the German chancellor hinted at when she issued indirect warnings to Russia in a calm and almost reserved manner at the joint press conference in Sochi after talks with Medvedev.

Merkel made it clear -- in a way that is not typical of her -- that Ukraine and Georgia would become members of NATO. It's only the timing of their membership that's still unclear, she said. This statement of Merkel's does not categorically reject NATO's expansion as early as December.

In addition, Merkel made it unmistakably clear that she shares the American view that the planned US missile defense shield in Poland and the Czech Republic is not aimed against Russia.

Both those statements by Merkel weren't a coincidence, rather they were an intended result of the meeting with Medvedev.

Clear limits

On the one hand, the German chancellor made it clear through her visit how important cooperation and good relations with Russia are. On this, Merkel apparently differs from the US and eastern European countries who demand a tougher stance toward Russia.

On the other hand, the chancellor underlined not just where the limits have been reached but where they have already been crossed -- namely that the partial occupation of Georgia by Russian troops and the violation of the territorial integrity of a sovereign neighboring country does not fit into a Germany-Russia strategy that is based on cooperation.

The Kremlin must have understood this message of Merkel's today.

Ingo Mannteufel heads Deutsche Welle's Russian online and radio programs. (sp)

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