By Arab News
By Maria Dubovikova*
Vladimir Putin on Saturday paid a surprise visit to the wedding of Karin Kneissl, Austria’s minister of foreign affairs, on his way to a meeting with German Chancellor Angela Merkel. He puzzled the global media, which subsequently published many articles on the subject, leaving the gate open for numerous conspiracy theories. Whatever the reasons for him attending the wedding, speculation broke out amid accusations of Austria being Russia’s Trojan Horse in Europe, and other such nonsense that was widely published in the Western media.
Austria historically has a very balanced foreign policy, an independent way of thinking and restrained reactions to global and regional developments. The country is neutral in the EU, but it does openly disagree with Germany on many issues worldwide, including sanctions on Russia. This explains why Austria stands strong to serve its citizens’ interests regardless of accusations it is a Russian agent in Europe.
It is clear that Putin used the chance to attend the wedding to meet with Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz. It was an opportunity to discuss various issues relating to the two countries’ bilateral relationship and regional and global issues. Russia is using every chance to speak with those who still give due importance to diplomacy and negotiations and those who are not blindly following the artificially created Russophobic hysteria, but rather look for ways to overcome the current situation, which is close to paralysis. No one except the US is interested in an escalation between the EU and Russia.
What Putin is doing with his visits and activities is to remind the protagonists of isolationism of a simple fact: No one can isolate Russia, taking into account its role and weight on the global stage. Moscow insists on diplomacy as the only means to settle world issues, while rejecting entirely any dictation or trespass into its political territories.
The talks with Merkel, to which Putin headed after the wedding, were far more significant than the celebration itself. Their meeting was not informative for the media as the leaders held no press conference. However, the talks were of importance due to the topics that were discussed — such as Syria and the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline — and their global framework.
For Russia and Germany, Nord Stream 2 is a purely commercial venture, but it is under threat from American sanctions. It is obvious that the two leaders are not going to give up on the initiative and are looking for ways to secure their interests and those of the companies involved in the construction and further exploitation of the pipeline. If Germany and Russia find a way, this would be deemed a mighty blow to those who seek to “make America great again.” Dmitry Peskov, Putin’s spokesperson, told reporters that “it is necessary to take measures against possible non-competitive and illegal attacks from third parties in order to eventually complete this project.” This proves that Moscow and Berlin are in talks to counter American measures.
Regarding Syria, Merkel has stated that both countries, but Russia in particular as a UN Security Council permanent member, have a responsibility to try to end the ongoing conflict. The pair apparently discussed the issue of the return of Syrian refugees — a matter on which Russia is closely and successfully working with its regional partners in Jordan and Lebanon.
Before the meeting, Merkel had stressed the importance of solving the humanitarian aspects of the Syrian crisis. This is of particular importance now, as the international community should work together to avert a humanitarian crisis and violence in Idlib province, where most of the remaining terrorist groups are gathered, along with thousands of civilians.
Putin and Merkel also discussed the issue of constitutional reforms in Syria. One of the issues was the initiative by Turkey aimed at arranging a four-party summit involving Germany, France, Turkey and Russia. Merkel is rather skeptical about the initiative, but has not taken it off the agenda just yet, saying that if it is arranged it has to be well-prepared, pointing out that Germany is not going to take part in initiatives that are doomed to fail.
There is no clear indication of what exactly the leaders discussed and on which points they disagreed. Thus, no one has the right to speculate on the probable outcome of the meeting. What is important and what gives hope is the message from Merkel before the talks started that she “is of the opinion that controversial issues can only be addressed in dialogue and through dialogue.”
• Maria Dubovikova is a prominent political commentator, researcher and expert on Middle East affairs. She is president of the Moscow-based International Middle Eastern Studies Club (IMESClub). Twitter: @politblogme