Rapprochement with Russia is now a core policy objective for Germany

Rapprochement with Russia is now a core policy objective for Germany

As Donald Trump shakes up the global order, German Chancellor Angela Merkel is being pushed closer toward a more predictable partner in Moscow. As Bloomberg writes in an article "Rapprochement With Russia Is Now a Core Policy Objective for Germany", when President Vladimir Putin hosted Merkel in the Black Sea resort of Sochi on Friday, both leaders did their best to keep tensions in the background compared with a year ago, when they clashed over Ukraine and Russian election meddling. Now, they’re aligned in trying to shield businesses from U.S. sanctions, defend the Iran nuclear accord ditched by Trump and rebuffing American objections to a Russian gas pipeline to Germany.

Rapprochement with Russia is now a core policy objective in Berlin, according to a senior German official with knowledge of the chancellery’s strategy. While Merkel and Putin aren’t about to become best of friends, they’re seasoned survivors of geopolitical turmoil who share a contentious but well-honed relationship. Germany, for example, doesn’t intend to ease European Union sanctions on Russia over situation in Ukraine.

“Putin likes the irritation that Trump has created with Europe,” said Josef Janning, head of the Berlin office of the European Council on Foreign Relations. “In his eyes, I think, the development is quite positive.” The Russian leader tried to intimidate Merkel in the past, said Janning, “but she’s still around -- like he is.”

Pipeline diplomacy

For Putin, it’s an opportunity to chip away at his diplomatic isolation from Europe since Russia was dropped from the Group of Eight in 2014. For Merkel, the stakes are as much about projecting European values in a globalized age as about protecting German economic interests in Iran and Russia.

That includes Nord Stream 2, which Putin and Merkel have a joint interest in completing over U.S. objections. The Trump administration has threatened sanctions on companies working on the pipeline because more Russian gas would bypass Ukraine on its way to Germany.

On the global stage, Trump’s exit from the Iran deal is an opportunity for Russia to show it’s an indispensable partner, according to a government official familiar with Putin’s thinking. Iran will be on the agenda for both Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, who’s appearing with Putin at the St. Petersburg Economic Forum next week.

“When opinions coincide, it already means that countries become a little bit closer at least,” Yuri Ushakov, a Kremlin foreign policy aide, told reporters in Moscow before the meeting. The Sochi meeting between Putin and Merkel will be a “very important contact,” he said.

Polls suggest Germans trust Russia more than the U.S. under Trump. While 14 percent of respondents view the U.S. as a reliable partner, 36 percent said the same of Russia, according to a poll for ZDF television published Friday.

Merkel, a Russophile and Russian speaker who grew up in communist East Germany, and Putin, a former KGB agent who served in the eastern German city of Dresden, are familiar with each other’s background like perhaps no other major world leaders. And throughout the turmoil, they have kept lines of communication open. They spoke by phone as recently as Friday.