Merkel Floats Meeting With Putin as Points of Conflict Multiply

(Bloomberg) -- German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she plans to meet with President Vladimir Putin in the “foreseeable future” after military strikes in Syria widened a rift between Russia and the west.

Merkel made the proposal after speaking by phone with Putin earlier Tuesday, when they discussed Syria as well as the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project from Russia to Germany. The chancellor said last week that Nord Stream 2 shouldn’t go forward if it disrupts gas transfers across Ukraine.

“I think the number of issues we have in front of us, from Ukraine to gas to the very big issues over Syria, requires us to have a direct exchange in the foreseeable future,” Merkel told reporters in Berlin. No date has yet been set for a meeting.

Germany’s historical relationship with Russia means there is a substantial lobby in favor of closer ties to Moscow. But Merkel’s always prickly relationship with Putin has been strained close to breaking point after the Russian seizure of Crimea and its intervention in eastern Ukraine, which her government has condemned as a violation of international law.

After sitting out the weekend’s air strikes on Syrian targets, Merkel has stepped up efforts to seek a political settlement to the seven-year civil war. She said that while Russia carries responsibility for its backing of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad’s regime, no political settlement to end the war can take place without a role for Putin’s government.

“It will be necessary to talk to Russia,” Merkel said at a press conference with New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in Berlin on Tuesday.

Merkel, a Russian speaker who grew up in communist East Germany, last had a bilateral meeting with Putin in May 2017 in the Black Sea city of Sochi, a tense encounter as the two clashed over Ukraine, human rights and election meddling. They also met at the Group of 20 summit she hosted in Hamburg last July.

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