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Merkel meets Putin amid tense relations

May 18, 2018

The two leaders discussed Syria, the conflict in Ukraine, the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline and the Iran nuclear deal. Merkel was critical on press and cultural freedom as well as a ceasefire breach in Ukraine.

Russland Sotschi - Vladimir Putin und Angela Merkel
Image: Reuters/S. Karpukhin

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that the Iran nuclear deal was better than none at all in a press conference with Vladimir Putin on Friday. She also criticized a breach of the ceasefire in eastern Ukraine that had occurred overnight before the two leaders met in the Russian city of Sochi.

Merkel was speaking following talks with her Russian counterpart, with Germany at odds with Russia over Moscow's support for the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad and its role in the conflict in eastern Ukraine. 

Russian President Vladimir Putin welcomes German Chancellor Angela Merkel to his Sochi residence on Friday.
Russian President Vladimir Putin welcomes German Chancellor Angela Merkel to his Sochi residence on FridayImage: picture-alliance/Sputnik/S. Guneev

What was said on Ukraine:

  • Both leaders said the Minsk accord was the "only basis" to achieve peace in eastern Ukraine, and that work should continue in the so-called "Normandy" format — involving Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine. 
  • Merkel noted a "major breach" of the ceasefire in the region overnight. 
  • Putin said Russia would support a UN peacekeeping mission in eastern Ukraine.
  • Merkel stressed that Ukraine should remain a gas transit country even after the Nord Stream 2 pipeline opened, and said Germany was "ready to play its role."
  • Putin said that Russian gas may still flow to Ukraine: "Supplies will continue if they are economically viable," he said.
  • Putin found warm words on Donald Trump, saying "I understand the US president, he protects his business interests. He wants to push his product to the European market." According to Putin, "Donald is not just the US president; he is also a strong, good entrepreneur."

German Chancellor Merkel in meeting with Putin moots UN mandate for Ukraine peacekeeping mission.

What was said on the Middle East:

  • The US withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal had created a difficult situation, Merkel said. 
  • "It's not a perfect deal, but it's better than no deal," Merkel said of the Iran accord.
  • Merkel said the EU is "currently discussing" a law that would block US sanctions on European companies wanting to invest in Iran.
  • Putin said that European countries should help Syria rebuild if they want refugees to return to the country.
  • Merkel said that Germany has a strategic interest in good relations with Russia.

What else was said:

  • Putin described the talks as "very useful" for Russia, saying that they came at an interesting time. 
  • Merkel said that "big problems can only be solved if you talk intensively about these topics where you're of different opinions."
  • Putin also commented on the news that the poisoned double agent Sergei Skripal left hospital earlier on Friday. "I believe that, if he had been poisoned by a military-grade toxin as our British colleagues are claiming, this man would die on the spot," Putin said. 

Read more: Sergei Skripal: poisoned ex-spy discharged from hospital

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin attend a joint news conference following their meeting in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on May 18, 2018
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin addressing reporters following their meetingImage: Reuters/S. Karpukhin

Fraught ties: Germany and Russia's agreement on the importance of the Iran nuclear deal is a rare moment of concurrence between the two countries. Relations have been marred by differences over Moscow's support for Syria's President Bashar Assad, its annexation of Crimea and its role in the ongoing conflict in eastern Ukraine, among other things.

'A lot at stake' in Merkel-Putin talks

What is the Iran nuclear deal? The Iran nuclear deal was brokered in 2015 by the five permanent members of the UN Security Council, including Russia, plus Germany and the European Union. Under the deal, Tehran agreed to no longer carry out nuclear work that could result in the production of nuclear weapons in exchange for the lifting of some sanctions.

What are the consequences of the US withdrawal for Europe? Europeans consider the deal as key to regional security and fear that the US pullout could lead to Iran's relaunching its program to acquire nuclear weapons. They are also concerned that Washington's reintroduction of sanctions on Iran threatens their economic interests in the country.

Read moreIran deal: The European Union's ugly options 

kw, dj/msh (AP, AFP, dpa, Interfax, Reuters)