15 January 2020

The Putin-Merkel dialogue and the European dilemma. With or against Russia

Sergiu Medar

On January 10th 2020, German chancellor Angela Markel met Russia’s president Vladimir Putin and discussed the main global security issues. The perspective convergence, most of them opposing US’s position, has revealed that Germany truly is Russia’s closest Western partner.

Image source: Mediafax

The international political scene is dominated, at the beginning of the third decade of 2000’s, by the political crises in Iran and Libya. It is not a coincidence that both states are Muslim and seem to want to mark the MENA instability borders. Both states stay behind the contradictory discussions among world’s big powers.

The main disputes are between Trump’s Administration and Europe, represented by Merkel and Macron. Both sides are putting Europe’s smaller states in a bad situation as they are forced to diplomatically express their stance on discordance elements, without actually being sure they are heard. Without Great Britain, which was providing this diplomatic balance, the MM tandem (Merkel-Macron) has to seek diplomatic support from non-democratic states, such as Russia.

At the Macron-Putin France meeting from August 2019, the French leader stated that “despite disagreements from the last decades, the debates on relations with the West, Russia is European and we must reinvent a security architecture between the European Union and Russia”. Furthermore, Macron promised he will be part of the Red Marked ceremonies to take place in May 9th 2020, at the 75 anniversary since Nazi Germany’s collapse. Despite different perspectives on certain matters, the meeting revealed a sort of nearness between these leaders.

On January 10th 2020, Mrs. Merkel met with Vladimir Putin in Moscow, the first time since May 2018 in Sochi. It is still unclear who came with this face-to-face meeting proposal. Sources say that the German chancellor was the one to ask for it, others, however, are claiming it was Russian president’s initiative. The fact that the first element they discussed was related to the Russian support in keeping nuclear agreement by the European state makes us think the German chancellor called on this meeting. The main topics of the meeting were: Iran, Iraq, Libya, Syria, Ukraine and the gases supply policies to Europe.

In 2015, US, Great Britain, Germany, France, Russia and Iran signed the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), shortly the ‚”nuclear agreement with Iran”, aiming at stopping Iran from developing nuclear weapon capabilities. In 2019, US withdrew from this agreement due to Iran’s supposed deal breaches. Recently, the US president called on European signatory states to join Washington and withdraw from JCPOA.

Mrs. Merkel wanted to make sure Russia shares Germany and France’s stance, stating that “everything must be done” to keep the agreement, meanwhile the Russian president stated that the seven states’ agreement is “highly important”. The German chancellor said, in the press conference after the meeting, that “Germany is convinced that Iran will not produce or procure nuclear weapons”. The statement astonished foreign analysts as she did not reasoned the affirmation, and France just stated, a few days before that moment, that Iran will be able to produce nuclear weapons. Therefore, the German chancellor said that, far from being perfect, this agreement is extremely important for world’s security. Putin also underlined that an extended war in the area would be a “catastrophe”.

In the same week the Moscow meeting took place, Tehran announced that it entered the fifth and last phase of applying nuclear agreement’s provisions. At the same time, Iran’s release underlined that Tehran is not forced to follow the centrifuges limits for the enriched uranium it owns. Iran’s statement emerges in an extremely tense moment between Tehran and Washington, after the US killed Iran’s Qods forces leader, Qassem Soleimani.

After Russia accepted to keep the nuclear treaty with Iran, on January 12th, two days after the Moscow meeting, France, Germany and Great Britain’s leaders met in Paris and signed a joint press release on their stance regarding the nuclear agreement and asked Iran to followed its provisions completely and abstain, on the other hand, from violence. European states think that the solution for diplomatic relations’ intensification is the only recommendation for the Iran crisis. The solution of an offensive military pressure, practiced by US, is not agreed by those who were part of the Paris meeting.

As for Libya’s situation, president Putin underlined that it signed a ceasefire agreement, with support from Turkish president Erdogan, between the governmental forces and General Haftar’s army, starting with January 12th 2020.  It will allow negotiations’ restart between the two forces, aiming at stabilizing Libya. Russia is present in Libya through Wagner mercenaries, used by Putin also in violent military actions in Syria, Ukraine, the Central-African Republic, Sudan, but also for supporting General Haftar in fight and assurance operations. Unfortunately, Haftar did not follow this agreement and the Russian-Turkish initiative failed.

The Turkish Parliament approved, on January 8th 2020, to send troops and support the Tripoli government’s army stabilize Libya. Their presence in the instability area, without signing the agreement, will oppose the Turkish military men and the Russian mercenaries from General Haftar’s army.

Although Putin used Wagner mercenaries in Russia’s operations from Ukraine and Syria, where they fought along Russian forces, they are now gainsaying them, stating they had nothing to do with them and  the mercenaries’ groups are not representing Russia, as they are only fighters hired by foreign forces or governments.

Mrs. Merkel said she supports Russia and Turkey’s initiative and offers to host a peace conference, supervised by UN, to allow “Libya to transform itself into a peaceful and sovereign country”.  During the conversation with the German leader, Putin asked and got, through phone, the agreement of United Arab Emirates and Qatar to support agreements’ observance.

The hot topic related to gas supply to Central and Western Europe by Russia highlighted, once again, both states’ full agreement. The two leaders agreed that the Nord Stream 2 project must be continued, without taking into account US’ opinion, which considers that Germany and other European states would become vulnerable to Russia, as dependency would increase Moscow’s blackmail possibility. Due to US sanctions, the project, which was started by a consortium of European companies, will only be completed by Russia. According to the promises Putin made during the talks, the two pipelines will start working at the end of 2020 or, in the worst case, at the beginning of 2021. During the discussions, Mrs. Merkel said several times that she will not be influenced by US or other European states position. In 2021, the German Chancellor will end her term and will no longer run for a new one. Nord Stream 2 is a huge project that wants to be linked to her name.

The only disagreement between the two sides arose when they discussed Ukraine. Merkel expressed strong support for EU's continued sanctions on Russia due to non-compliance with the Minsk agreement. She stressed, however, that when these were respected, Germany would support lifting sanctions

If so far the true relations between the two states were questioned, now one can certainly, claim that Germany is Russia's closest Western partner.

Addressing, finally, Putin, Mrs. Merkel said: "I would like to thank you for this opportunity to discuss, because discussions with each other are always better than discussing each other." This statement is a partial answer to the Western dilemma: "European security with Russia or against Russia".

Translated by Andreea Soare