Putin, Merkel meeting yields no results
MESEBERG - Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel discussed the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria, as well as Iran and a gas pipeline project that has drawn US ire during tough talks outside Berlin that ended with no clearcut progress.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters no agreements were reached, but the meeting had simply been intended to "check the watches" after Merkel's meeting with Putin in the Black Sea resort of Sochi in May.
Ties between the two countries have been strained since Russia's annexation of the Crimea region of Ukraine in 2014.
The two leaders both viewed the Nord Stream 2 pipeline project as a purely commercial venture, despite persistent fire by the US and Ukrainian governments, Peskov said.
“That's why it is necessary to take measures against possible non-competitive and illegal attacks from the third countries in order to complete this project eventually," he told reporters shortly before Putin flew back to Russia. It was not immediately clear what such "measures" could entail.
At the start of the talks, Merkel underscored her expectation that Ukraine should continue to have a role in gas transit to Europe, and welcomed the start of discussions among the European Union, Ukraine and Russia on that issue.
Putin, speaking at the German government's Meseburg castle, said such a move had to make sense from a business perspective.
"The main thing is that the Ukrainian transit” which is traditional for us - meets economic demands," he said. "Nord Stream 2 is exclusively an economic project.”
The United States is pressing Berlin to halt the pipeline that will carry gas from Russia under the Baltic Sea, arguing it will increase Germany's dependence on Russia for energy.
Ukraine fears the pipeline will allow Russia to cut it off from the gas transit business, while Germany's eastern European neighbours worry about Russian encroachment.
Peskov said the threat of possible US sanctions against companies involved in the project was not discussed on Saturday.
Standing beside Putin before the talks, Merkel said both countries - but especially Russia as a permanent member of the UN Security Council - had a responsibility to try to solve the ongoing fighting in Ukraine and Syria.
She said she also planned to raise potentially thorny human rights issues with Putin, and discuss bilateral relations.
"I am of the opinion that controversial issues can only be addressed in dialogue and through dialogue," she said.
- Syria -
Putin on Saturday called on Europe to financially contribute to the reconstruction of Syria to allow millions of refugees to return home.
"We need to strengthen the humanitarian effort in the Syrian conflict," he said.
"By that, I mean above all humanitarian aid to the Syrian people, and help the regions where refugees living abroad can return to.”
There are currently one million refugees in Jordan, the same number in Lebanon, and three million in Turkey, Putin said.
Germany has accepted hundreds of thousands of migrants since 2015 -- the height of the migration crisis -- which has weakened Angela Merkel politically and split the European Union.
"This is potentially a huge burden for Europe," Putin said.
"That's why we have to do everything to get these people back home," he added, emphasising the need to properly restore basic services such as water supplies and healthcare.
Merkel said the priority in Syria was "to avoid a humanitarian catastrophe", but did not give any further details.