Putin and Merkel talk Syria, Ukraine, new gas pipeline project

World Today

Russian president Vladimir Putin offers to help ease Europe’s refugee crisis during a meeting with the German Chancellor. It’s Angela Merkel’s first meeting with President Putin since his meeting with U.S. president Donald Trump last month.

CGTN’s Guy Henderson reports.

Even as other western leaders became reluctant, Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel are meeting.

But this is new: an invite from Merkel to a rural retreat outside Berlin. And from the Russian president, an offer of help.

“Let me remind you that one million refugees are in Jordan, one million in Lebanon, three million refugees are in Turkey. This is potentially a huge burden for Europe. Therefore, it’s better to do everything so that these people could come back home,” said Putin.

“What must be done for that? Elementary things: we need to help to restore water supply, sewerage systems, medicine, the most basic things.”

Things that are still being destroyed as the Syrian government, backed by Russia, bears down on some of the final rebel strongholds.

The U.N. warns that more than two million more people may yet flee — some of them, surely, to Europe.

Merkel called for restraint: her main bargaining chip now, perhaps, reconstruction funds that could amount to $250 billion and which Moscow would struggle to afford.

Though it may soon have a major new revenue stream: a controversial pipeline called Nord Stream 2, that will send Russian gas directly to Germany, bypassingUkraine.

Progress has been slow for fears it would undermine Kiev while eroding the effects of sanctions. But a deal appears close.

“Regarding Ukraine, we are also going to talk about gas transit. I think that Ukraine, even with the new Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline in place, should play a role in the gas transit to Europe,” Merkel said.

That’s if U.S. President Donald Trump doesn’t block it, which he’d suggested he might do ahead of a NATO summit last month.

But in Germany, there were no breakthroughs, and none were expected. But both leaders appear to view this meeting as the start of a process and have made their priorities pretty clear: Angela Merkel wants Russia to finally bring an end to the violence in Syria and Ukraine. Vladimir Putin’s priority is to rebuild ties with the Russia economy at the forefront of his mind.