Merkel’s Visit in Moscow: Putin Opportunity and Germany’s Detriment?

Over the past weekend, Chancellor Merkel travelled to Russia for a conversation with President Putin about the current crises as well as future bilateral relations that would benefit both parties tremendously. For Germany, it comes with a high price tag, however.

Merkel’s last visit to the Kremlin is an almost distant memory; however, the current geopolitical developments made a meeting a necessity. On an increasingly unpredictable world stage and surrounded by, at times, erratic interlocutors, both Merkel and Putin did not forget what they have in each other. It was thus the reanimation of a relationship that has been through highs and lows, but more or less amicable on a personal level – even throughout the international outcry over the Crimea annexation and subsequent sanctions against Russia.

After a recent diplomatic dispute over an alleged contract killing in Berlin, however, the relationship appeared to deteriorate once again. Germany’s federal prosecutor suspects that government agencies in Russia or the Chechnya republic ordered the murder. In his first reaction, Putin referred to the killed individual as a “murderer” and “bandit.” Then Putin first accused the German government of not having extradited the man, despite continuous requests, something that has been confirmed as a downright falsehood by now.

Nonetheless, when Merkel arrived in Moscow last weekend, both sides made a noticeable effort to conduct the trip as amicably as possible. However, the personal relationship between the two is not the reason. Rather their respective plans for future cooperation and mutual benefits a stable relationship between Moscow and Berlin provides.

Putin, for one, communicated why Germany was so crucial for Russia, which is primarily based on trade. Germany remains Russia’s second most important trading partner behind China. Moreover, the overall German investment in Russia in the previous year recorded $20 billion.

Germany remains the economic powerhouse of Europe and the fourth most potent economy in the world in terms of nominal GDP. It is thus not a surprise that Russia seeks to not only benefit from it but participate in it. However, it is not merely Putin’s rhetoric that is proving his vision. It is his actions also. It was thus no coincidence that essential figures of Russian and German economic life participated in the meeting, such as Gazprom Deputy Chairman Miller, Russias Minister of Economic Affairs Oreshkin, and the head of the economic and financial department in the German Chancellery.

While the current economic cooperation between Germany and Russia is primarily about the completion of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, even more, significant plans appear to be on the horizon, given the presence of these marquise names.

However, it is not only Russia, who hopes to be a beneficiary in this relationship and future projects. Though, for Germany, these benefits are primarily a part of foreign and security policies.

So far, Germany has appeared alongside France in the talks in Normandy format since 2014, attempting to facilitate lasting peace between Ukraine and Russia. Now, however, Germany is trying to facilitate peace in Libya. In the so-called “Berlin Process,” Germany seeks to mediate between the Libyan government under Prime Minister Fayiz as-Sarraj and the insurgent General Haftar.

At the meeting with Merkel last weekend, Putin assured her that he would support her initiative, which is crucial if any progress is anticipated. Putin possesses creed in the Middle East, a region in which Germany does hardly have an identity. With Putin stating the Berlin Process was a “good step in the right direction,” Merkel received a quasi blessing from the Kremlin to move to the next stage.

This next stage occurred when Merkel sent out official invites for a meeting in Berlin this Sunday, including high ranking names such as Mike Pompeo and Russia’s Foreign Minister Lavrov.

It is not the first time, however, that both have displayed unanimity. The same applied in 2015 regarding the Vienna Atomic Energy Agreement. With the issue being pressing right now, Merkel emphasized in Moscow that Germany seeks to keep the agreement with Iran alive. All diplomatic channels would have to be used for this as Iran should not get nuclear weapons. Putin occurred and pledged his commitment in favor of the continuation of the 2015 agreement.

All in all, the meeting of Merkel and Putin in Moscow displayed a surprising degree of unity. Merkel, who has openly stated that with the shift of US interests in the world, Germany had to become more self-reliant and explore new avenues. Whether Putin can be Germany’s best new bet must be doubted, however. The latter has shown that his geopolitical interests are purely governed by Russian advancement. A dependence on the Kremlin, particularly in terms of solving global crises, can thus not be the way forward for Germany.