On August 18, Russian President Vladimir Putin met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, after a stopover in Austria to attend the wedding of Austrian FM Karin Kneissl
During the meeting, the two leaders discussed the Syrian crisis, the Ukrainian crisis, and the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline. Concerning the pipeline, Putin stressed that Russian and Germany are committed to the project. The Russian President also underlined that Nord Stream 2 is exclusively an economic project; and it does not exclude the possibility of continued gas transit through Ukraine. "I would like to stress that Ukrainian gas transit, which is our traditional route, needs, most importantly, to be based on economic needs; it should be economically justified in every sense," Putin added.
It is worth noting that US President Donald Trump expressed his disappointment with the EU countries' support for Nord Stream 2 instead of buying US-made LNG, which is more expensive than Russian gas. In his July meeting with Trump, the President of the EU Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, had agreed to import more liquefied natural gas, LNG, from the United States, provided the price was competitive.
Recently, during a visit to Ukraine, the US president's national security advisor, John Bolton, criticized the EU for supporting the Nord Stream 2 project. "It's not just the economic significance of being heavily dependent on Russia for the supply of natural gas and petroleum, but the strategic significance of it as well," Bolton said.
"There are other potential sources of natural gas as well from the major gas fields found in the eastern Mediterranean off Israel, from America's capacity to export liquefied natural gas (LNG) and a variety of other possible sources" the national security advisor added.
Commenting on the meeting, Senator Konstantin Kosachev, Russian Federation Council Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman, stressed that German-Russia relations are as important as Russia-US relations and perhaps more important.
Below is an overview of reactions to the Russia-Germany talks:
Before the start of Russian-German talks, Putin had an informal conversation with Federal Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel. (Source: Kremlin.ru)
Back in May, Putin met with German Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel at the Bocharov Ruchei residence in Sochi. (Source: Kremlin.ru, May 18, 2018)
Senator Kosachev: Both Countries Are Interested In North Stream 2
Before the start of Russian-German talks, Putin signed the distinguished visitors’ book at the Meseberg residence, with Federal Chancellor of Germany Angela Merkel. Source: Kremlin.ru)
Senator Konstantin Kosachev, Russian Federation Council Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman, posted on his Facebook account:
"The meeting which took place, Russia-Germany negotiations, demonstrates beyond any doubt that this is a matter of world wide scale, and not just a routine meeting between two leaders. This is proved by enormous quantity of analytical articles published prior to the meeting in almost in all leading media outlets.
"The meeting draws no less attention than the recent Russian-American summit. Yet the reason for this [attention] is different. It's not about the uniqueness of the meeting after a long interval (there was no such one), and not about unpredictability of the results (almost everyone correctly predicted that there would be no breakthrough agreements).
"The point is that not less but perhaps more depends on the Russia–Germany dialogue on global matters than on contacts between Moscow and Washington. The international agenda is enduring tectonic shocks - points of it remain the very same, but the approaches are increasingly diverse.
"Both during the Cold war and later during the three decades of the aftermath, it was much simpler: here are the 'Whites', here are the 'Reds'. At the moment, especially after Trump's elections victory, everything is different, including the approaches to the international law, interpretation of allies' obligation and the fate of transatlantic solidarity at the very least.
"In these circumstances, far more will be dependent on a better understanding between Russia and Germany, than simply [the tenor of] bilateral relations between Berlin and Moscow. It's already dependent. The Berlin meeting has taken place at the moment when the bilateral interests objectively converge to a significantly larger degree than before.
"Both countries are interested in North Stream 2 and the stability of the Russian gas supply to Europe including the Ukrainian route. Both countries are concerned with the damaging consequences of US extraterritorial sanctions for economic cooperation between the EU and Russia. Both countries are affected by the ramifications of the continuing Syrian conflict – for Russia it's about military and political costs, for Germany it is about refugees. In general, both countries are affected by the general situation in the Middle East (the cost of Trump's decision on Jerusalem for example). Both countries fear the collapse of nuclear deal with Iran deal collapse and a new escalation of tensions in the Korean peninsula…
"Of course, many rough spots and points of friction remain. Yet, the meeting's assessment as 'comprehensive, timely, and useful' inspires optimism beyond any doubt. For me, this optimism is expressed by the success in openly discussing major international issues and in the leaders' joint understanding of the importance to assist to business and civic societies dialogs. Those dialogues serve as a certain guarantee against sharp zigzags in the course of bilateral relations, which we'd like to avoid henceforth. We'll fully assist that through parliamentary diplomacy."
(Facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002123135703, August 19, 2018)
MP Zheleznyak: The Meeting Demonstrates That Germany Sees No Other Alternative To Conducting A Dialogue With Russia
MP Sergey Zheleznyak, a member of the Duma International Affairs Committee:
"The meeting between Russian president Vladimir Putin and German councilor Angela Merkel proved the readiness of our countries to cooperate despite a series of disagreements in foreign policy matters. The meeting has demonstrated that the leading European country understands that there is no alternative but to conduct a dialogue with Russia on key international problems and resolving global and regional challenges.
"Many important bilateral and international matters have been raised during the meeting, which prove that a broad potential for cooperation between our countries exists. The tone of the dialogue of between the two heads of state sends a positive signal to the international community and sets an example of pragmatic politics, aimed at protecting national interests while respecting the sovereignty of the partners."
(Ria.ru, August 19, 2018)
Russian Expert Bordachev: Not A Long Time Ago, Such A Dialogue With GermanyWould Have Been Impossible
Valdai Club program director Timofey Bordachev wrote in an article, titled "What made Germany and Austria start a diplomatic game with Russia?" that was published by the Russian media outlet Vz.ru:
"Putin's visit to Austria and Germany looks triumphal in comparison with the new tough format of relations of the US with its allies in Europe …
"The Russian president's visit to Germany and Austria is an expression of normal, regular foreign policy and international communication, at times when this is seemingly becoming part of the past. Only a short while ago, it looked like such a dialogue would be impossible or would boil down to a dialogue of the deaf. Yet, time provides adjustments. Emotions and conflicts come and go, while interests remain. Those interests make Germany– not to speak of Austria – start a diplomatic game with Russia…
"The first reason [for dialogue] stems from the changes of the last years in mutual US-Europe relations. These changes fortunately fall on the fertile ground of Russia's immunity to external pressure and the failure of all the attempts to achieve Moscow's international isolation, that the West undertook for the last four years.
"The new format of US and EU allies is no longer [based upon] equality of rights, even if only formal –but on unconditional submission. The American president in July, following his boisterous visit to Eurupe has to a great extent succeeded in chipping away the European's will to fight...Yet, the leading European states do not intend to fully blend in [with American policy] – and it is unlikely that would allow themselves to do so.
"Germany considers it essential and profitable to accomplish the construction of the North Stream gas pipeline. Berlin will be bargaining with the Americans, make limited concessions, yet Germany won't renounce its ultimate goal to almost monopolize the European market for the supply of Russian gas…
"Do the relations [between Russia and Germany] have a chance for recovery to a previous level of depth and trust? Hardly.
"Germany, as well as rest of Europe, can hardly be a constructive partner for Russian in the upcoming 10-15years. The huge quantity of internal problems, the inertial of the launched sanctions policy, and constant US pressure – all these won't allow the Germans Europeans to alter their relations with Russia and attitude, towards projects being supported by Russia. For example, towards Eurasian economic integration, which is not officially recognized by the EU. Moreover, the inability to admit its own mistakes is a very important feature of German national character: even if you are not right, keep fighting until the very end, right down to the Reichstag. [An allusion to the final days of WWII, when the Soviet Union conquered Berlin and Soviet soldiers hoisted the hammer and sickle on the Reichstag building ."
(Vz.ru, August 17, 2018)
Russian Intellectual Lukyanov: Putin Needs A Reset With The West
Russian intellectual Fyodor Lukyanov wrote in his Telegram channel:
Syria Is The New Issue On The Negotiating Table Between Russia And Germany
"Syria emerged as a fairly new topic in the Putin-Merkel negotiations. To be more precise, it was always in the scope of problems under discussion, yet since Europe lacks in the recent years any serious leverage on the situation on the ground in Syria, the discussion narrowed down to the litany of lamentations about the war's brutalities. At the moment, the conversation might be more substantive – Russia is interested in it.
"The military–political situation in Syria has generally stabilized- the remaining hotspots, like Idlib, do not threaten the overall peace process with collapse. Consequently, the question of civil reconstruction and return of the refugees arises. The latter is very pressing for the EU, particularly for Germany, this gives reason for attracting the Europeans to assist [Syria's] stabilization. The idea of a quartet – Russia-Turkey-Germany-France – stems exactly from that, although a few months ago nobody would have even thought of it.
"Yet, at the moment we may talk about changes in the discussion framework change only – yet, nobody promises any result. And yet again, there is a progress on that track – in comparison to the Ukrainian track…
Merkel Also Needs A Mutual Understanding With Moscow
"The Putin-Merkel meeting has been concluded in the best traditions of political working contacts. Except of opening remarks – there were no leaks or rumors regarding the content of the meeting. This is a very pleasing contrast in comparison to conversations vis-à-vis the Americans, from whom everything leaked instantly in a stormy stream washing away the sense of any conversation. The scope of general issues [in Russia-Germany talks] is clear, all the rest is being consulted upon.
"The German press commentaries are wary, mostly negative: Putin has his back to the wall, he needs the reset with the West, he again began to curtsy– yet, the comments are more reserved and businesslike than a short while ago. Most of the commentators admit that Merkel at the moment also needs a mutual understanding with Moscow: she faces a hard moment in Germany's internal politics, EU internal politics and vis-à-vis the US. As the Spiegel puts it down – the atmosphere is polite, but distant…"
Appendix I - Press Statements Before The Start Of Russian-German talks – Kremlin.ru, August 18, 2018
Putin: Russia Places Major Importance On The Development Of Mutually Beneficial Cooperation With Germany In The Political, Economic And Other Spheres
Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany Angela Merkel (retranslated): "Ladies and gentlemen,
"I would like to welcome Russian President Vladimir Putin here at Schloss Meseberg.
"We have the opportunity to continue the discussion we had in Sochi. I believe that since there are so many serious conflicts in the world, this highlights the possibility to find solutions.
"We bear responsibility – both Germany, but first and foremost Russia, because Russia is a permanent member of the UN Security Council – therefore we have to work to find a solution.
"This first issue is Ukraine. We have been working on this for quite a while; the Minsk Agreements remain the basis for a solution. However, we certainly have to acknowledge that there is no stable truce. I hope to make a new attempt to ensure a truce by the beginning of the new school year.
"Today we will talk about the possibility of establishing a UN mission that would play a part in the peace process; Germany is ready to bear responsibility here.
"Regarding Ukraine, we will also talk about gas transit. I believe that after the launch of Nord Stream 2, Ukraine must play its part in the gas transit to Europe. I am content that we have managed to start talks on this issue with the European Union.
"Syria is also an important subject. Of course, the first thing we need to do is to void a humanitarian disaster in this country and around it. We see a reduction in military action now, but this does not mean there is peace and order yet. Therefore, Germany, as a member of the so-called smaller group, places special emphasis on promoting the issue of possible elections. And we, of course, support the work of the UN Special Ambassador, Mr. de Mistura.
"We will of course talk about Iran. We would like to maintain the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), but we must carefully follow Iran’s activities, be it the missile program or regional politics.
"The situation in Syria, and here we will also continue the talks we had with Russian Minister of Foreign Affairs Sergei Lavrov this summer in Sochi.
"And of course we will discuss the human rights issues and our bilateral relations. We have cross years; it is the year of regional-municipal partnerships now. This is a very good chance to get to know each other better.
"Another session of the St Petersburg Dialogue is set for October. I hope that there will be a good exchange between our civic societies. I believe that disputable issues can be resolved through dialogue, and this is why I am very happy to welcome Mr. Putin."
President of Russia Vladimir Putin: "First, I would like to thank Ms. Federal Chancellor for the invitation and the opportunity to have this working meeting. We are ready to discuss both Russian-German relations and pressing international issues.
"I would like to point out that Russia places major importance on the development of mutually beneficial cooperation with Germany in the political, economic and other spheres. I am proceeding from the idea that we will discuss the state of and the prospects for trade and economic relations.
"Germany is one of Russia’s leading partners in this area. Last year mutual trade increased by 22 percent to reach $50 billion, and from January to June there was another 25 percent increase. The volume of accumulated German investment in the Russian economy exceeds $18 billion.
"There are about 5,000 German companies in Russia with a total turnover of more than $50 billion and with around 270,000 employees. There are also about 1,500 enterprises with a Russian stake in the Federal Republic of Germany that have invested over $8 billion in various segments of the German economy.
"One of the priority areas is energy, as is well known. Germany is the largest buyer of Russian energy resources. In 2017, we supplied some 53.8 billion cubic meters of gas, which is more than 30 percent of the German market; Russian gas consumption is constantly growing and has increased by 13 percent this year.
"Germany is not just a big market for us, for Russian hydrocarbons, but it is also an important transit link to other European countries. Actually, June marked the 50th anniversary of the beginning of gas shipments from the Soviet Union to Western Europe.
"During this period, our country has reliably ensured a continuous supply of energy and has made a significant contribution to energy security of the entire European continent.
"Together with our German partners, we are working on a new main gas pipeline, Nord Stream 2. This pipeline will improve the European gas transport system, diversify supply routes and minimize transit risks, and most importantly, will satisfy the growing demand for energy resources in the European economy.
"In this regard, I would like to underline once again that Nord Stream 2 is an economic project only; it does not exclude the possibility of continued gas transit through Ukraine. I know the position of the Federal Chancellor, who regularly raises this issue.
"I would like to stress that Ukrainian gas transit, which is our traditional route, needs, most importantly, to be based on economic needs; it should be economically justified in every sense.
"There are good prospects for extending cooperation in other directions. This includes Russian-German industrial cooperation, the localization of German high-tech manufacturing in Russia. Such projects were discussed at the St Petersburg International Economic Forum.
"Cooperation in the cultural and humanitarian spheres continues to be developed. Many events will be held as part of the Year of Regional-Municipal Partnerships between the two countries. This autumn the Cross Year of Academic Partnerships will take on the torch. A large concert program entitled Russian Seasons is planned for 2019 in Germany.
"Contacts between the two countries’ parliaments are being restored. A strong delegation from the German Bundestag was in Moscow in June. Initiatives to create a large inter-parliamentarian commission with the participation of the leadership of the Russian State Duma and the Bundestag are being worked on, and cooperation between civic societies as part of the St Petersburg Dialogue, the Potsdam Meetings, and the German-Russian Forum are also being carried out.
"As for the international agenda, Ms. Federal Chancellor has just stated. Of course, we will discuss issues of interest to us. We will discuss the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action to settle Iran's nuclear program. Of course, this will not be omitted.
"It is very important to preserve the multilateral agreement aimed at strengthening regional and global security and nuclear non-proliferation approved by the UN Security Council.
"We will naturally discuss the situation in the Middle East, primarily that in Syria. We need to enhance the humanitarian component of the Syrian conflict, primarily rendering humanitarian aid to the Syrian people and helping the areas where refugees, who are in other countries, might return.
"When I say other countries, I do not mean European countries, although some refugees might return from Europe as well. But I would like to remind you that there are around a million refugees in Jordan, a million refugees in Lebanon, and 3 million refugees in Turkey. This is a potentially huge burden for Europe, so it is best to do everything we can for these people to return.
"What needs to be done to accomplish this? Basic things: we need to help restore the water and sewage systems, and restore medicine, the most basic things. I believe everyone is interested in this, including Europe.
"We will of course talk about Ukraine, as Ms. Federal Chancellor said, in the context of the Ukrainian crisis’ settlement, where unfortunately, there is little progress, given the lack of alternatives to the Minsk Agreements; we will highlight our interest in participating in the Normandy Format and the contact group, and our readiness to further support the UN’s special monitoring mission. I hope we will see progress in these areas.
"In a word, we have a lot to talk about, quite a few issues. I would like to say that I am grateful to Ms. Federal Chancellor for the opportunity she has provided for this today.
"Thank you for your attention."
Question: "Mr. President, I am sorry, could you briefly describe your trip to Austria."
Vladimir Putin: "It was a very good trip, with a warm atmosphere. This was a private visit.
 Cnbc.com, July 25, 2018. See: Trump and Juncker agree to take steps to boost US LNG exports to Europe.
See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 7037, Russia-Government Funded Think Tank: The Hidden Target Of The New Round Of U.S. Sanctions Is To Undermine The German Economy, August 3, 2017.
 Sputniknews.com, August 24, 2018.
 Afp.com, August 24, 2018.
 See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 7490, Russian Intellectual Lukyanov: Europe Without America, May 25, 2018.
See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 7479, Russia This Week – May 21, 2018 – Part I, section: "Putin-Merkel Meeting – Merkel: It Is In Our Strategic Interests To Maintain Good Relations With Russia," May 21, 2018.
See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6911, Reactions To Merkel's Visit To Russia, May 8, 2017.
See MEMRI Special Dispatch No. 6669, 'Moskovskij Komsomolets' Columnist: 'How The Chancellor Of Germany Became A Hostage Of The Minsk Process And What Is In Store For Her', November 7, 2016.