Vladimir Putin has welcomed Angela Merkel to the Black Sea resort of Sochi for talks expected to be dominated by tensions over the Ukraine crisis and Syria.
The summit at Mr Putin’s summer residence is Mrs Merkel’s first visit to Russia for two years and comes amid what the Russian president admitted was a “problematic” time in relations between their countries.
Ties between Berlin and Moscow have been frayed over Russia’s continuing involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, German and EU sanctions against Russia, and allegations of Kremlin meddling in upcoming German general election in autumn.
“We cannot but use this visit to discuss bilateral relations and the most problematic points, by which I mean Ukraine and Syria and maybe some other regions,” Mr Putin told Mrs Merkel at the start of the meeting.
Mr Putin has signaled interest in improving ties with Germany, telling the country’s foreign minister during a recent visit that “our common goal to fully normalize relations and to make sure all the difficulties we face are overcome.”
Berlin said the meeting would focus on preparations for the G20 summit of world leaders which Mrs Merkel will chair in Hamburg in July, but said no breakthroughs should be expected on major disagreements.
“There are two topics that weigh down relations… the annexation of Crimea contrary to international law and then the destabilisation of eastern Ukraine by pro-Russian separatists,” Mrs Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert told journalists ahead of the visit.
Mr Putin and Mrs Merkel last met in Germany in October for talks aimed at reviving the peace process in eastern Ukraine.
Although the two leaders share a common language – Mr Putin speaks German and Mrs Merkel Russian – their relationship has long been viewed as business-like rather than warm, and took a distinct turn for the worse following the annexation of Crimea in 2014.
Mrs Merkel, who has emerged as the key broker between Mr Putin and Petro Poroshenko, the Ukrainian president, in international efforts to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine, was widely seen as the driving force behind the EU sanctions imposed on Russia.
She has repeatedly called on Mr Putin to withdraw support for separatist forces in eastern Ukraine, which the Kremlin publicly denies providing.
German has also been critical of Russia’s military support for Bashar al-Assad’s government in Syria.
Source: The Telegraph