Merkel’s Failed Russia Summit Signals Her Diminishing Power

Angela Merkel said she was “sad” that fellow EU leaders had spoiled her idea of ​​the bloc He held his first summit with Vladimir Putin Since Russia’s annexation of Crimea in 2014. “We’ve shown that we don’t trust each other very much,” she said.

It was a rare flash of frustration from a politician famous for her self-discipline and vocals. However, it highlighted the scars left by A Franco-German initiative This sparked strong feelings and outrage – even among Merkel’s closest allies.

The dispute cast a shadow over one of the last EU summits of one of Europe’s longest-serving leaders. Merkel is set to step down this year after 16 years as chancellor, and this week’s heated discussions were not the smooth farewell many expected.

“I misjudged the impact it could have,” said Ulrich Speck, visiting fellow at the German Marshall Fund of the United States. “It was a sign that her power was waning.”

The EU-Russia summit was Merkel’s second foreign policy initiative to fail this year. A major investment deal between the European Union and China that it had supported put it on ice In March by the European Parliament after China imposed sanctions on five members of the European Parliament. “Merkel is a lame duck,” Speck said.

Merkel’s long experience at EU summits has shown her mastery of reading the room and making sure arguments go her way. But that approach failed this week.

Apparently upset, she rejected the suggestion by some EU countries that she and Macron were making “free concessions” to Russia by promoting the idea of ​​the summit. “I want to make it clear that such talks with the Russian president are not some kind of reward,” she said at a press conference after the summit.

For Merkel’s political opponents in Germany, the dispute has highlighted the collateral damage it has caused Nord Stream 2This is the Berlin-backed pipeline that will transport Russian gas directly to Germany and which many see as increasing Europe’s dependence on Russian energy.

“The problem is that thanks to NS2, Germany has lost all credibility as a representative of European interests,” said Franziska Brantner, a spokeswoman for the Greens in Europe. “Some EU member states are really questioning whether the German government is working for Europe or just the interests of German companies.”

After the summit, Merkel explained what prompted her to promote the idea of ​​holding a Russian summit – with a spectacle on top Joe Biden Meets Putin Live In Geneva this month.

Given that the United States and Russia have agreed among themselves a framework to “discuss all contentious issues” in their relationship, Merkel said that “under these circumstances, it would be logical to find formulas for the European Union to talk with Russia as well.”

She insisted that it was not a matter of a “new start” in EU-Russia relations, but rather a matter of figuring out how best to resolve existing disputes.

“Even in the Cold War . . . we always had channels of communication,” she said. While individual countries including Germany and France continued to talk to the Kremlin, she said, it made sense for the EU to speak to Moscow with one voice.

Diplomats said Merkel may have felt this week’s summit was her last chance to put the European Union on a path of closer engagement before she walked off the political stage.

Her initiative was supported by her junior coalition partner, the Social Democrats. The European Union must become a major player in security policy. . .[and]Olaf Schultz, the SPD finance minister, told the Financial Times. “Russia must understand and accept integration into the European Union.”

Nor was it without the full support of the European Union. And while some leaders questioned Putin’s bid for a summit due to his deteriorating behavior, defenders said the downward spiral in Russian relations was an additional reason for the EU to change course.

The problem, diplomats say, is that the idea came out by its proponents only a day before the summit. One described the maneuver as “poorly prepared” and “something that came lightning from a clear sky.”

Germany also appears to have underestimated the sensitivities of member states that are geographically close to Russia. The Baltic reaction was particularly strong, while some countries, such as the Netherlands, emphasized that they would not sit at the same table with Putin.

However, Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister and longtime Merkel ally, said the chancellor’s gambit “in no way taints” her legacy.

My position was actually very close to the Franco-German proposal, but I could not agree to the 27th EU meeting with Putin. “It would be a great gift for him,” he told the Financial Times.

The audacity of the plan also jeopardized its chances. Russia did not withdraw its forces from Crimea or eastern Ukraine, during the assassination attempt Alexei NavalnyAnd the leader of the Russian opposition further strained relations.

However, this is far from the end of the story. The Czech Republic and the Netherlands have indicated that they are not necessarily opposed to a summit between the presidents of the European Commission, the European Council and Putin.

Sanna Marin, Finland’s prime minister, said the question had not yet been resolved. “Yesterday wasn’t the right time, but I think we’ll discuss this further.”

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