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On January 11, German Federal Chancellor Angela Merkel paid a one-day visit to Moscow, where she held talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin. Mrs. Merkel, be it noted, has not been in the Russian capital for a long time – nearly five years passed since in May 2015, she and Vladimir Putin laid flowers to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at the Kremlin wall in memory of the 70th anniversary of the end of World War II.
And the last time Merkel and Putin had a brief talk was during the Paris Normandy summit on December 9 last year. That meeting yielded important agreements to embody the "Steinmeier formula" in the Constitution of Ukraine, to extend the Donbass region's special status, as well on a ceasefire until the end of 2019 and the separation of forces in three sections of the contact line. The Ukrainian issue was also touched upon at Saturday's meeting between Putin and Merkel, but due to the aggravated situation in the Middle East, it receded into the background. And yet, the meeting noted the significance of Russian gas transit to Europe via Ukraine.
The remarkable thing is that the latest conversation between the leaders of the two states lasted 3.5 hours. The upcoming visit of the German Chancellor to Moscow became known right after the new year 2020. At the same time, the meeting between Putin and Merkel was originally conceived as a "working dinner", during which it was planned to discuss the issue of resolving the conflict in Ukraine, the crisis in Libya and the situation in Syria. However, due to the murder of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani by the United States in the night of January 3, made Mrs. Merkel's visit to Moscow take on a whole new meaning.
The world is still fearful of mutual attacks between Washington and Tehran, even though the situation in the region has calmed down somewhat after US President Donald Trump's announced introduction of extra sanctions against Iran instead of the use of military force. However, there is still a long way to overwhelming tranquility in the Middle East, and this region may burst into flames at any moment. Moscow and Berlin are perfectly aware of this, so it is no accident that Mrs. Merkel, who remains the most powerful person of the Old World, went to negotiate not with any of the European leaders, but with Vladimir Putin.
Germany recognizes that Russia is one of the few countries in the world with real influence on the situation in the region, and Moscow plays a decisive part in resolving the conflicts in Syria and Iran. German experts believe that without Moscow, Ankara and Tehran, a long-term solution in the Syrian Arab Republic (SAR) is next to impossible. The situation is similar in Iran as well. Therefore, Russia "has the upper hand," as the phrase goes, and the German Chancellor knows this. It is indicant that Mrs. Merkel's first visit this year was to Moscow, not to Washington. This testifies to the lack of high expectations as regards the United States, with all the opportunities for settling the situation in the Middle East lying with Russia alone.
Note the fact that within minutes of arriving in Moscow, Angela Merkel said she was looking forward to meeting and negotiating with Putin, and stressed that it is better to talk to each other rather than about each other. Apparently, the Federal Chancellor's attitude shaped the nature of her conversation with the President of Russia, which was meaningful, as Vladimir Putin noted. At the same time, he stressed the importance of discussing issues related to the economy, politics and culture with Angela Merkel.
As previously expected, Putin and Merkel discussed the recently worsened situation in the Middle East, particularly in Iran, Iraq, Syria, and Libya. For instance, Vladimir Putin supported Germany's initiative to hold an international conference on Libya in Berlin. And touching upon Syria, the Russian leader said the following: "Russia and Germany share the view that the final resolution of the conflict in Syria can be achieved exclusively by political means in accordance with the UN Security Council Resolution 2254."
The issue of Iran had certainly become specifically acute these days, so a lot of time was put into it during the talks between Putin and Merkel. However, this topic has been included in the agenda of the two leaders' talks a long time ago, since Russia and Germany are parties to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) on Iran's nuclear program. Immediately after coming to the White House, American President Donald Trump announced the unilateral withdrawal of the United States from this deal, which dramatically aggravated the situation involving Iran's nuclear program. Both Moscow and Berlin are interested in preserving the JCPOA, but the trouble is that neither Russia nor Germany can seriously influence President Trump, who is getting the bit between his teeth to head for a confrontation with Tehran over its nuclear program.
At a joint press conference following his talks with Angela Merkel, the Russian President expressed hope that the situation in the Middle East will not turn into a large-scale war. It is worth noting that this was the Russian leader's first comment on the aggravated situation in the region. Vladimir Putin stressed that widespread military operations will become a disaster to the whole world. According to the Russian President, this will particularly lead to new sweeping flows of refugees, not only to Europe, but to other regions as well.
During the talks, the two leaders could not help discussing "bilateral issues" among other things. This definition covers a variety of issues, like the completion of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which will last a little longer than previously planned due to US sanctions. To this effect, Mrs. Merkel said Germany did not support US extraterritorial sanctions against the participants of the Nord Stream 2. The German Chancellor noted that Berlin and Moscow actively maintain economic contacts despite the sanctions.
In turn, President Putin strongly believes that Russia will manage to complete the pipeline single-handedly. However, he admitted at the same time that the end of construction activities will have to be postponed for several months, but the gas pipeline is bound to be launched until the end of 2020 or in the first quarter of the next year.