The World from Berlin More Monologue than Dialogue

There was little common ground between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin at their bilateral meeting in Wiesbaden on Sunday and Monday. German commentators are dismayed at how little influence Merkel was able to wield.

Merkel and Putin don't see eye to eye on many foreign policy issues.

Merkel and Putin don't see eye to eye on many foreign policy issues.

On Sunday and Monday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin met for bilateral talks on the fringes of the annual Petersburg Dialogue meeting taking place in the German city of Wiesbaden.

The agenda was dominated by foreign policy issues on which Germany and Russia don't see eye to eye: the American missile shield in Eastern Europe, an independent Kosovo, Iran's nuclear program and opposition from the Baltic states to the planned undersea gas pipeline between Russia and Germany. And with Merkel determined to raise the issue of human rights in Russia, the prospects were not good for a friendly climate of discussion.

Afterwards, the two leaders left Monday's meeting with optimistic diplomatic flourishes. Putin praised his "realistic and trustworthy relationship" to the German chancellor that allowed differences of opinions to be discussed openly. While there was little talk of concrete results, members of the German delegation reported having detected some "movement" on the Russian side with respect to the status of Kosovo.

Most commentators writing in the Tuesday editions of Germany's main papers were disappointed to note that the gap between the two leaders is not narrowing and that, on the whole, Russia wields the upper hand.

The center-right Die Welt writes:

"The Petersburg Dialogue in Wiesbaden made it more than clear how far apart Germany and Russia are in matters of foreign policy, for example, in their dealings with Iran."

"Moscow has nothing to gain from a nuclear-armed Iran: This is the maxim adopted by Europe, which has been negotiating in vain with Tehran for years. It is at best a half-truth. As long as the issue is before the UN Security Council, Russia has a significant say. If the conflict were to be solved, Moscow would lose important leverage over the West -- which is why it has its foot on the brakes. Secondly, Russia has, for a long time, been exerting pressure through its power in the Middle East. Putin sees in the US's problems in Iraq the opportunity to regain a geo-strategic role in the Middle East that was lost after the collapse of communism …. Thus, the Iranian nuclear project raises the question for Moscow of whether it should position itself with Iran to create a united front against the West in the Middle East or prevent the Iranian bomb. Putin has been careening between the two poles -- neither backing Tehran entirely nor allowing tougher sanctions. Iran has made the most of this, pursuing its nuclear program with even greater force."

In a piece entitled "Petersburg Monologue," the left-leaning Die Tageszeitung writes:

"Chancellor Angela Merkel has repeatedly referred to the relationship between Germany and Russia as a 'strategic partnership.' ... Putin has never used this term, not even when his buddy and Gazprom business partner Gerhard Schröder was in office in Berlin. And for good reason -- as we have seen in Wiesbaden. On all the issues being tabled, Germany's position is strategically weaker than Russia's and is, in most cases, backed by weaker arguments. In order to raise tougher UN sanctions against Iran, Russia's support -- or at least an abstention -- is required in the Security Council. The same applies for a solution to the problem of Kosovo's independence."

"Merkel's position on the American defence shield is irrelevant to Moscow, as long as she remains a faithful servant to Washington rather than initiating a critical debate within NATO. And also on the energy front, Germany has little say. And it will remain so, until the federal government develops a strategy to reduce its dependence on fossil fuels. Putin's empire is the largest gas and third-largest oil producer in the world."

"It's only in the realm of human rights that Merkel has stronger arguments. The fact that they fall on deaf ears is a result of the policy that the West has pursued since the end of the Cold War and the dissolution of the Soviet Union. The West's arrogant victor mentality and the expansion of NATO to the Russian border have strengthened the authoritarian forces in Russia and weakened those backing democracy and human rights."

The center-left Süddeutsche Zeitung writes:

"Following the German-Russian talks, presumably the last with President Putin, the question remains: How can we possibly exert greater influence on this country, on this man? There is an entire catalogue of issues being contested between Russia and Germany ... . And what does Putin actually want?"

"'Please invest in my country,' he says. A clear request. But investment will only take place if the relationship is balanced, if there is mutual trust. The technology transfer from Western Europe to Russia is huge, the interest in stable relations with Putin great. Putin and his follower -- who may or may not be as powerful as he -- must be interested in maintaining this stability. The positive climate for investment will change very quickly if Putin positions himself in the wrong corner."

-- Naomi Buck, 12:30 p.m. CET


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