Angela Merkel travels to the Black Sea resort of Sochi today to meet with President Vladimir Putin. The official reason is to prepare for the July G20 summit in Hamburg, but the real motivation for the trip is less banal.
Ms Merkel hasn’t made a bilateral visit to Russia since it annexed Crimea in 2014. She insisted that Moscow first help facilitate a resolution to the Ukraine conflict – something that has clearly not yet happened. However, with a looming election and ongoing conflict on Europe’s periphery, her calculus appears to have shifted.
Ukraine (where Russia supports separatists), Syria (where Russia supports Bashar al-Assad), and Libya (where Russia supports rebel factions) will feature on the agenda, but little progress is likely. An easing of sanctions would be needed for Russian concessions on these issues, and the chancellor will not want to compromise her firm position so close to elections. The visit will at least remind voters of her foreign policy credentials – the strongest of any politician in Germany, and possibly Europe.