Merkel To Hold Talks With Putin On First Anniversary of Navalny Poisoning

Russian President Vladimir Putin and German Chancellor Angela Merkel shake hands after a joint news conference in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, January 11, 2020. Pavel Golovkin/Pool via REUTERS/File Photo

German Chancellor Angela Merkel flew to Moscow for talks with President Vladimir Putin on Friday with ties at post-Cold War lows, her final official trip to Russia as she prepares to step down next month after nearly 16 years.

Relations between Merkel and Putin soured in 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine, drawing broad condemnation and sanctions from the West.

The talks between two of Europe's longest-serving leaders coincide with the first anniversary of the poisoning of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, an incident that severely strained Russia-Germany ties.

Merkel, 67, grew up in former Moscow-backed East Germany and speaks Russian, while Putin, 68, was based in Dresden during the Cold War as a KGB officer and speaks German.

The anniversary of the poisoning of Navalny, Putin's most vocal domestic critic, is likely to loom large at their talks.

Navalny was flown to Germany last year after being poisoned with what the West concluded was a military nerve agent. Moscow rejects that and alleges a Western smear campaign. Navalny was jailed when he flew back to Russia.

In a letter to mark the anniversary published in three European newspapers on Friday, Navalny appealed to the West to do more to combat corruption in countries like Russia.

Putin and Merkel are likely to broach Russia's Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline to Germany which is nearly complete despite U.S. complaints that the pipeline will deal a huge blow to ally Ukraine by bypassing the historic gas transit country.

They may also touch on media reports that U.S. officials stationed in Germany sought medical treatment after developing symptoms of a mystery ailment known as Havana Syndrome. U.S. diplomats told the Wall Street Journal that some of the victims were intelligence officers working on Russia-related issues.

The two leaders are certain to discuss Afghanistan and the Taliban's lightning takeover after the exit of U.S. troops.

Merkel is due to step down as chancellor after a Sept. 26 election, while Putin, who has been in power for more than two decades, is next up for election in 2024, though he has not said whether or not he will run.

Putin angered Berlin in 2007 by allowing his labrador into a meeting with Merkel who has a fear of dogs. He later said he didn't know about Merkel's phobia and had apologized.

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