Merkel and Putin will spend a weekend in Sochi


MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Boris Kaimakov) - The German chancellor and the Russian president are not likely to have the time to enjoy the popular Russian resort. For Angela Merkel a visit to Sochi may be a good start to the German EU presidency.

She would like to discuss a number of urgent issues with Vladimir Putin, such as easing tensions on the issue of Europe's energy supplies and return to Berlin with the Kremlin's clear-cut decision to lift the embargo on Polish meat exports to Russia.

It is clear why the German chancellor wants to protect Warsaw's interests. In postwar history Berlin has always been very attentive to Warsaw's problems, and will always help it. Berlin would also like to see the embargo removed as soon as possible because it has lead to the Polish veto in the discussion of a new EU-Russia agreement. This is why Merkel gave up her weekend and flew to Sochi.

On the eve of her visit, EU and Polish veterinary experts are holding talks with Russian representatives in Berlin. Russian Minister of Agriculture Alexei Gordedyev and his Polish counterpart Andrzej Lepper are planning to meet.

Poland should be given credit for taking to Berlin specific proposals on improving the quality of meat exported to Russia. Some time earlier, Warsaw familiarized a relevant EU commission and Moscow specialists with the results of its efforts. The EU is happy about these results, and there are indications in Moscow that the talks may end in success.

Russia and the EU had the same approach to the quality of exported Polish meat. Last year, Brussels made a serious reprimand to Warsaw on this score. Poland admitted that unscrupulous Polish vendors re-exported to Russia meat from China and India which did not match veterinary certificates. They did damage not only to Russian consumers, but also to EU reputation. Brussels was tough on Warsaw because Polish conduct adversely affected all European meat exporters. The Polish brake on Russia's closer cooperation with the EU may be removed very soon in Sochi.

However, there are other problems which have compelled Putin and Merkel to meet at the earliest opportunity. On the eve of the meeting, RIA Novosti organized public debates in Berlin with the participation of presidential aide Igor Shuvalov. The main topic was Russia's reliability as energy supplier to the West. After Moscow's strong reaction to Minsk's demarche, up to the shutdown of oil supplies, Europe has become more critical of Moscow.

Shuvalov does not often take part in public debates, and his appearance in Berlin caused great interest. His reasoning seems to have been accepted. Horst Telchik, once Helmut Kohl's security adviser, said it was necessary to show understanding towards Russia's position. In his opinion, Moscow was forced to react in its clash with Minsk and "it is not right to supply sovereign states with cheap oil and gas."

Shuvalov assured his audience that Russia was very keen to uphold its reputation as a dependable supplier. "We had force majeure with Belarus," he admitted.

Angela Merkel may well ask Putin whether this force majeure will continue. One does not need to be an expert on energy supplies in order to answer in the affirmative. Therefore, Igor Shuvalov said in no uncertain terms that to avoid that it was necessary to build more pipes. The North European gas pipeline should guarantee against similar cases in the future "so that no transit countries are able to blackmail us or dictate their terms," Shuvalov said in Berlin.

Chancellor Merkel is fully aware of Moscow's position on the construction of the North European gas pipeline. The plan was born when Gerhard Schroeder was chancellor. Now he heads the council of the project's committee of shareholders. Merkel has said more than once that she favored a policy of strategic cooperation with Russia. In this context, the German and Russian energy interests cannot be different. True, there is a Polish issue here as well - Warsaw believes that the pipeline's construction may prejudice its energy interests. No doubt, in Sochi Merkel will try to find out Moscow's attitude to this sensitive problem.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author, and do not necessarily coincide with the opinions of the editorial board.

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