Body language frosty between Putin, Merkel in Russia

  • 03/05/2017
Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin
Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin (Getty)

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, on a rare visit to Russia, says Berlin and Moscow must keep talking despite their disagreements, even as those very differences overshadow talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

At a news conference on Tuesday following a meeting in the Russian Black Sea resort of Sochi, diverging positions were aired over Syria, Ukraine, Russian respect for civil rights, and allegations Moscow is interfering in other countries' elections.

Their body language suggested tensions: facial expressions stern as they spoke to reporters, while barely looking at each other.

Ms Merkel insisted on the importance of communication. "You must carry on [talking], because otherwise you fall into silence and there is less and less understanding."

Ms Merkel was making her first bilateral visit to Russia since Moscow annexed Ukraine's Crimea peninsula in 2014.

Asked by a reporter if she feared Germany could be subject to Russian attempts to interfere in its forthcoming parliamentary election by disseminating fake news, Ms Merkel took a firm line.

"I am not an anxious person, I will fight the election on the basis of my convictions," she said, adding Germans would deal decisively with false information.

But Mr Putin, standing alongside her, bristled at the suggestion Russia meddled in the US presidential election.

Allegations about Russia trying to get Donald Trump elected were "rumours", Mr Putin said, generated as part of internal political battles in the US.

"We never interfere in the political life and the political processes of other countries and we don't want anybody interfering in our political life and foreign policy processes," said Mr Putin.

Vladimir Putin, Angela Merkel
Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel in Russia (Reuters)

On the conflict in eastern Ukraine, where pro-Moscow separatists are fighting Kiev's rule, Mr Putin and Ms Merkel said they agreed on the need for the full implementation of the Minsk agreement.

Mr Putin however launched into an attack on the pro-Western administration in Kiev, saying it - and not Russia or its allies - was forcing the separatist region away from Ukraine. That contradicts Berlin's position.

Asked by a reporter about a deadly poison gas contamination in the Syrian town of Khan Sheikhoun, which Western governments said was a chemical weapons attack by Syrian government forces, Mr Putin said that was unproven.

Touching on a sensitive point for the Russian authorities, Ms Merkel said she had raised concerns with Mr Putin about police breaking up anti-Kremlin protests, as well as other issues that human rights organisations say are a cause for alarm.

Mr Putin denied that Russian police had violated protesters' rights by arresting them.