What does the meeting between Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin signify?

What does the meeting between Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin signify?

De-escalation and concentration on problem solving are the order of the day

by Karl Müller

The idea that it is not only possible, but also better for human nature, if the people and states of the world live side by side and together peacefully on an equal footing, if they cooperate instead of fighting each other, has been challenged many times in recent years – even though it is the anthropological, natural and ethical basis of the UN Charter and international law. But perhaps the current upheavals in the world will give this idea a new chance.
Although US President Donald Trump is constantly being bludgeoned, he has shown: “It is possible that previously hostile state leaders will once again come into conversation with each other. At his meetings with North Korean Kim Jong Un in Singapore on 12 June 2018 and with Russian Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on 15 July 2018, he showed that it is possible to take the first steps in this direction. All the hostilities which have therefore been directed against the US President do not prove that these steps were wrong, but that, in addition to the idea of an equal and peaceful co-existence, which is beneficial to all, there is still another powerful but demonstrably false world view – may it now be put forward out of conviction or to conceal pathological greed for power and money. This worldview is in principle the old social Darwinian model and assumes that the human being is a wolf, that life is a struggle for survival in which everyone stands against everyone and in which everything is just a zero-sum game, where the advantage of the one is always the disadvantage of the other. Tough battles of distribution and even wars are therefore unavoidable.

Common tasks for Germany and Russia

The fact that, after Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President met on 18 August 2018 in Meseberg, Brandenburg, and talked for three hours, that a picture of two politicians sitting at one table in a beautiful park talking seriously to each other made the rounds in the world, and that the results of the talks were kept secret for the time being, has probably not only a connection to the Trump-Putin-meeting, but also gives cause for hope. It would be a blessing if the German Chancellor would also strive to correct the confrontation with Russia’s President step by step and to focus more on cooperation – even if her motivation for this may be competition with the US President for future markets and future political relations.
Preceding their talks, the German Chancellor and the Russian President spoke to the press about the common tasks. The Russian President emphasised in particular, the improving economic relations between the two countries. Despite all disruptive manoeuvres Nord Stream 2 is to be built. For Ukraine, both politicians stick to the Minsk agreements. They also want to work together on the situation in Syria. On 18 August 2018, the German government’s website merely stated that Germany “as a member of the so-called ‘Small Group’ (Germany, France, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Great Britain and the USA) wants to get a political process under way”. On the night of 19 August, Russian presidential speaker Dmitry Peskov said that together with Germany, France and Turkey, Russia wanted to make a new attempt in order to stabilise the destroyed country.

“Sense of reality and rhetorical disarmament”

The German media response to the meeting of the two politicians was not exuberant, but the tone has changed noticeably compared to previous years. It has become more objective. There were only a few sharp critical tones against the Russian President. And the Russian news agency Sputnik, which is close to the government, wrote on 21 August 2018: “Following the latest working meeting between Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Vladimir Putin at Schloss Meseberg near Berlin, the German side seems to be making an effort to bring a sense of reality and rhetorical disarmament into German-Russian relations. [...] Despite all their differences of opinion, the Meseberg meeting is generally seen as a signal that Berlin and Moscow are determined to cooperate more intensely and come to an agreement on the international stage. This is one of the few points on which the German people fully support their government, as surveys have shown for years”.

Remembering incidents – without making accusations

Since 1991, most governments of NATO and EU countries had done much to make life difficult for Russia and its governments. There is no need to reiterate the many proofs of this here. As the “loser” of the Cold War, Russia should subordinate itself to the hegemonic aspirations of the Western world and its supremacy, the USA, and leave the wealth of its natural resources to Western interests, for example. The term “end of history” (Francis Fukuyama) was used and meant the final victory of US politics. Brzezinski’s book of 1997, “The Grand Chessboard” was paradigmatic for this policy. Non-governmental organisations tied to the West were supposed to help bring Russia into Western line or to correct an unpleasant Russian policy, as it had been manifested since 2000 under Presidents Putin and Medvedev, if necessary even with a regime change. The Russian government, which had regained its self-confidence, reacted accordingly within the country and in foreign and defence policy, probably not always in the best manner, as understandable in a new Cold War with hot war zones.

Which windows have opened?

Until a few weeks ago one could rightly speak of a permanent escalation in the relations between the NATO and EU states on the one hand and Russia on the other. But even within the EU not all governments agreed with this course. Neutral Austria, for example, which the Russian President visited prior to the meeting with the German Chancellor, shaped relations with Russia differently than Germany or even the Baltic States and Poland. Because the Western hegemonic power USA almost unanimously held on to its confrontational course until January 2017, this did not yet lead to any political change.
Despite all setbacks, despite all contradictions and despite the still very great influence of the “war faction”, with Donald Trump there still is the chance that this will change, even if it is still open who will prevail in the inner-American conflict. Donald Trump has also opened a window of opportunity for the other states of the world, including the European states. If the meeting of the German Chancellor with the Russian President is a signal that this time window is being used in the sense of peace and Angela Merkel is no longer acting as the executor of the will of the “war faction”, there really is reason for hope.

No longer the wish to undermine Russia’s sovereignty

It is indispensable that Angela Merkel and all other Western governments let the Russian government clearly know now that they no longer intend to undermine Russia’s sovereignty and that further steps to weaken the country will not be taken in the future. What is needed are honest negotiations and cooperation on an equal footing. Political poker is not the way forward. De-escalation and concentration on problem solving are the order of the day. There are enough tangible problems in the world, which cause suffering among the affected people.    •

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