Merkel hits diplomatic dead-end with Putin

Nov 26, 2014, 12:46 AM EST
 (L to R) Russian President Vladimir Putin, FIFA President Joseph S. Blatter and German Chancellor Angela Merkel attend the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Final match between Germany and Argentina at Maracana on July 13, 2014 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
AFP/Getty Images

After nine months of non-stop German diplomacy to defuse the crisis in Ukraine, Chancellor Angela Merkel decided in mid-November that a change of tack was needed. Reuters reports:

Ahead of a summit of G20 leaders in Australia, Merkel resolved to confront Vladimir Putin alone, without the usual pack of interpreters and aides.

Instead of challenging him on what she saw as a string of broken promises, she would ask the Russian president to spell out exactly what he wanted in Ukraine and other former Soviet satellites the Kremlin had started bombarding with propaganda.

On Nov. 15 at 10 p.m., a world away from the escalating violence in eastern Ukraine, the two met on the eighth floor of the Brisbane Hilton. The meeting did not go as hoped. For nearly four hours, Merkel -- joined around midnight by new European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker -- tried to get the former KGB agent, a fluent German speaker, to let down his guard and clearly state his intentions.

But all the chancellor got from Putin, officials briefed on the conversation told Reuters, were the same denials and dodges she had been hearing for months. "He radiated coldness," one official said of the encounter. "Putin has dug himself in and he can't get out."

The meeting in Brisbane, and a separate one in Milan one month before -- where Putin made promises about Russian behavior in eastern Ukraine that German officials say were broken within days -- pushed frustration levels in Berlin to new heights.

Merkel had hit a diplomatic dead-end with Putin. Since February, when the pro-Russian president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovich, fled Kiev amid violent protests on the Maidan square, Germany has taken the lead in trying to convince Putin to engage with the West.