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Sunday , December 4 2022

Merkel, Putin in talks – Ukraine, Syria on agenda

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Russian President Vladimir Putin meets with German Chancellor Angela Merkel at the Bocharov Ruchei state residence in Sochi on May 2. (AFP)

SOCHI, Russia, May 2, (Agencies): German Chancellor Angela Merkel held talks Tuesday with President Vladimir Putin on Ukraine and Syria in a signal of renewed dialogue despite profound rifts on her fi rst visit to Russia since 2015. “We cannot but use this visit to discuss bilateral relations and the most problematic points, by which I mean Ukraine and Syria and maybe some other regions,” Putin told Merkel at the start of the meeting in the Black Sea resort city of Sochi. The Russian and German leaders have scaled back links as Moscow’s ties with the EU plunged to a post-Cold War low over the crisis in Ukraine. Berlin has said Tuesday’s meeting would “above all” focus on the upcoming G20 summit in Hamburg in July and no breakthroughs were expected on major disagreements, although Putin earlier called for ties “to fully normalise.” Merkel has strongly backed EU sanctions on Russia for seizing Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and supporting the pro-Kremlin separatist insurgency in the east of the country.

Moscow has responded with an embargo on agricultural products from the West. A European-brokered peace plan to end the confl ict has hit a dead end. The German leader last visited Russia in May 2015 when she met Putin in Moscow but, like most Western leaders, snubbed a Red Square parade for the 70th anniversary of World War II victory. Merkel has been the main mediator with Putin over the crisis in Ukraine. She is a key proponent of keeping sanctions on Moscow in place until a stalled peace plan to end the confl ict in Europe’s backyard is fulfilled. Merkel and Putin have taken part in a number of four-way meetings, most recently last October, with Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko and France’s Francois Hollande aimed at implementing the plan the four countries hammered out in February 2015. Last month, Merkel and Putin participated in a four-way phone conversation with Poroshenko and Hollande, agreeing to step up the peace deal’s implementation. “There are two topics that weigh down relations … the annexation of Crimea contrary to international law and then the destabilisation of eastern Ukraine by pro-Russian separatists,” Merkel spokesman Steffen Seibert told journalists ahead of the visit.

Kiev and the West accuse Moscow of providing military support to the rebels in eastern Ukraine, a charge it denies. Both sides have also said the talks will cover the confl ict in Syria, where Putin’s military backing for leader Bashar al-Assad has set him at odds with the West. In her first official visit to Russia last week, EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini insisted that cooperation between the two sides was “not frozen” but said progress was hampered by profound disagreements on subjects including Ukraine and Syria. Putin and Merkel last met in Germany in October for talks aimed at reviving the stalled peace process in eastern Ukraine. A peace deal brokered by Germany and France in 2015 has helped reduce the scale of the fighting, but violence has continued and attempts to reach a political settlement have failed. Tuesday’s meeting comes amid tensions between the two countries over Germany’s support for EU sanctions imposed on Russia because of its annexation of Crimea and support for the separatists in eastern Ukraine. On Syria, Germany also has been sharply critical of Russia’s support for President Bashar Assad. Merkel has suggested that Moscow was partly responsible for atrocities because of the airstrikes its forces have carried out on civilian areas. Putin, however, told Germany’s foreign minister during a visit in March that it is “our common goal to fully normalize relations and to make sure all the difficulties we face are overcome.”

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