The major thing about May 2 Sochi meeting of Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin was its substantial component. Importantly for Kyiv, the German Chancellor voiced a statement that Ukraine must regain access the Ukrainian-Russian border, the part which is now beyond Kyiv’s control. Frankly speaking, it was difficult for Ukraine to even hope for such statement by top German official. Obviously, this position is exactly what Ukraine has been standing on. But Minsk arrangements say otherwise: the issue of control over the border is one of the last ones to be resolved. Therefore, Merkel’s latest statement means that Ukrainian position finds its reflection, which is truly important.
This visit was a necessity for both Merkel and Putin, mostly for propaganda and diplomatic purposes. It helped Putin realize his wish - to show that he is not an isolated leader and he still receives top visitors. Obviously, this will be one of the main accents in Russian TV reports covering the event, primarily aimed at domestic audience.
Minsk process is blocked, and Merkel outlined what it takes to unlock it
As for Merkel... First of all, the G20 summit is approaching, as well as the EU’s decision-making deadline regarding the prolongation of Russia sanctions for another six months. I believe, restrictive measures will be prolonged as a result of Moscow’s actions, especially in Syria, which completely undermined Russia’s credibility. Besides, the investigation is gaining momentum in the U.S. into Russia’s interference in the elections. All of this has changed the atmosphere in U.S.-Russian relations, as well as the ties between Brussels and Moscow.
Speaking of internal political reasons, it’s important for Merkel that the elections are looming on the horizon, and she does have a chance to win this September. But this years’ competition is great, and the results are quite difficult to predict. It is also hard to foresee what the ruling coalition will be like. Given these factors, it’s crucial for Merkel to show that not only can she be a “Frau Nein,” she is also ready for dialogue under certain conditions. Actually, in my view, this became the major reason to go for the Russia visit.
We should not forget that Germany is a key party to the Normandy format and the Minsk process, while Merkel personally invested a lot in the Minsk process. Being the mother of the Normandy format and the Minsk process, she can’t just say, "You know, it’s all broken to pieces, all of this just does not work..." Instead, she has to emphasize that "the process will continue if..." She should stress the idea (especially ahead of German elections) that thanks to the Minsk agreements, the hot phase of the war in Europe has been stopped. So, she has got her wording pretty clear in that respect.
The main thing is that Merkel firmly retains her previous positions
We, ourselves, understand that the Minsk process is blocked, while Merkel outlined what it takes to unlock it. She clearly stated that a number one task is truce, and the responsibility clearly lays with Russia. And there is nothing new here compared with what both the Ukrainian and foreign experts say: indeed, the Minsk process is not effective, but the format should continue until something else is found.
The main thing is that Merkel firmly retains her previous positions. Of all the European leaders, she shows the toughest stance by clearly binding Russia sanctions with the fulfillment of Minsk agreements, while putting the responsibility on Russia.
Oleksiy Haran is a Professor of a Political Sciences at the National University of Kyiv-Mohyla Academy, scientific director of the Ilko Kucheriv Democratic Initiative Foundation