Moscow (AP) – Chancellor Angela Merkel will travel this Friday amid huge tensions between Moscow and Berlin for Kremlin talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin. Merkel’s visit to Moscow coincides with the anniversary of the poisoning of Putin’s Russian opponent Alexei Navalny. The 45-year-old is in the penal camp and holds the Kremlin chief personally responsible for the attack on August 20, 2020. Merkel had asked Moscow to investigate the attack using the chemical warfare agent Novichok.
Russia refuses to investigate and claims no crime was committed. The chancellor had also asked for Navalny’s release. The politician was arrested in Moscow on January 17 – after returning from Germany, where he was treated and where he met Merkel. He is serving his prison sentence in the penal camp for allegedly violating registration requirements in Russia during his stay in Germany, according to a controversial verdict.
The case of the opposition activist, who was nearly killed a year ago, is part of a series of numerous conflict issues that are putting a strain on relations between the two countries. Following the internationally condemned attack on Navalny, the EU also imposed sanctions on Russia. Russia is also subject to sanctions for a hacker attack on the German Bundestag in 2015 and because of the conflict in Ukraine. The list of problems is long:
Government spokesman Steffen Seibert said in advance that it was also about the conflict in eastern Ukraine, “to solve it, the settlement Russia could do much more than it does”. Germany is mediating between Russia and Ukraine in the conflict that saw parts of the Moscow-backed regions of Luhansk and Donetsk secede from the central government in Kiev. A peace plan is on hold. After her visit to Putin, Merkel will meet Ukrainian President Volodymyr Selenskyj in Kiev on Sunday. A summit in Ukraine in Berlin has been planned for a long time. There is no appointment.
Nord Stream 2
Merkel and Putin also want to discuss the controversial Russian-German Baltic Sea pipeline Nord Stream 2, due to be completed this month. Germany wants to ensure that Russia continues to pump gas to Europe via Ukraine even after the pipeline is commissioned. The contract will initially run until 2024. It is unclear whether there will be a solution to the dispute.
The chronically clammy Ukraine depends on billions in revenue from the transit of Russian gas. The ex-Soviet republic fears that Nord Stream 2 will lose its position as the main transit country. Russia, on the other hand, wants to become more independent from the ailing gas transport system in the neighboring country.
The situation in Belarus, where a dictator acts in the worst possible way against his own people and over which the Russian leadership has influence, will also be a problem in Moscow, Seibert said. Belarusian ruler Alexander Lukashenko is no longer blocking refugees from continuing to travel to the EU – in response to Western sanctions against the ex-Soviet republic, which is isolated from the West. Since then, Lithuania in particular has been struggling with an increased influx of migrants from the Middle East across the border with Belarus.
Topics are also likely to be the situation in Afghanistan and the parliamentary elections in both countries in the second half of September. Both sides accuse each other of trying to influence the vote. According to EU experts, Germany is the main target of Russian disinformation campaigns. Germany will elect a new Bundestag on September 26, Russia a new Duma a week before. Politicians around the imprisoned Navalny are barred from voting.
Human rights and dialogue in Petersburg
Human rights activists complain about increasing repression against dissenters in Russia. Several independent media and organizations have recently had to stop working. Human rights activists, civil society representatives and journalists see themselves as ‘foreign agents’. Three German non-governmental organizations that Moscow declared undesirable were also recently affected.
The German side has therefore frozen its work in the Petersburg Dialogue that was established 20 years ago. Putin had set up the communication platform for civil society in both countries together with the then chancellor Gerhard Schröder. Putin recently stated that he was ready to cooperate with Russia’s main economic partner in the EU, Germany.
Merkel was last in Moscow in January 2020. 80 years after Hitler’s Germany attacked the Soviet Union, she too wants to lay a wreath on the grave of the unknown soldier in the Kremlin.