Merkel offers olive branch to Russia ahead of NATO summit

Putin and Merkel. The German chancellor will speak to Trump tomorrow. [European Commission]

German Chancellor Angela Merkel offered Moscow her “outstretched hand for dialogue” on Thursday (7 July), a day before NATO leaders meet in Warsaw to cement a new deterrent against what they see as an emboldened Russia.

Germany, which helped ease the Cold War with its ‘Ostpolitik’, or rapprochement with Communist states in eastern Europe, wants a constructive relationship between Russia and NATO, Merkel said.

“This means deterrence and dialogue, the clear commitment to solidarity with our partners in the alliance .. and an outstretched hand for dialogue,” she told parliament.

The two-day NATO summit in Warsaw will be dominated by the alliance’s response to Russia and a conflict in eastern Ukraine that the West accuses Moscow of fomenting at a cost of more than 9,000 lives. The conflict has led to Western imposition of economic sanctions on Russia and countermeasures by Moscow.

NATO to send troops to deter Russia, some allies want more

Britain, Germany and the United States advanced plans on Tuesday (14 June) to spearhead a new NATO force on Russia’s border from next year, but some Eastern European allies said the alliance’s effort must go further to deter Moscow.

Russia says it is the alliance, not Moscow, that is increasing the risks of a broader conflict in Europe, citing NATO’s biggest modernisation since the Cold War and a US missile defence shield as reasons to be worried.

The United States wants to hand over command and control of the missile shield to NATO at Warsaw. Merkel said the system, which is part of the US response to protect against Iranian missiles, was positioned purely defensively.

US activates Romanian missile defence site, angering Russia

The United States switched on an $800 million missile shield in Romania yesterday (12 May) that it sees as vital to defend itself and Europe from so-called rogue states but the Kremlin says is aimed at blunting its own nuclear arsenal.

“It is not directed against Russia,” she said to some heckling from opposition lawmakers. “It does not influence the strategic balance between NATO and Russia.”

NATO-Russia Council to meet

NATO envoys will hold a further formal meeting with Russia on 13 July, days after the alliance’s summit in Warsaw, in a sign Washington and Moscow want to defuse tensions in Europe.

A NATO summit surrounded by Warsaw's Communist ghosts

Leaders meeting in Warsaw for a NATO summit this week will be surrounded by the ghosts of Communism as they endorse the defence alliance’s biggest military buildup since the Cold War in response to a newly resurgent Russia.

The forum bringing together Russia and its former Cold War adversary NATO last met in April after an almost two-year hiatus as relations sank to their lowest level in decades over Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea peninsula.

The NATO-Russia Council will meet again at ambassadorial level in Brussels next week following the NATO summit in Warsaw in which Western leaders will cement a new deterrent against what they say is Russian aggression in Ukraine.

Russia’s envoy to NATO said Moscow would focus on the decisions taken in Warsaw, reiterating its view that the alliance’s military build-up is risking peace in Central Europe.

“The main focus will be on military security in the wake of decisions to be taken at the NATO summit in Warsaw,” said Russian ambassador Alexander Grushko. “We hope for a frank and serious dialogue on the issues related to the increased NATO activities near Russian borders and their impact on the security and stability in Europe and its regions,” Grushko said.

The West and Russia remain at odds over Ukraine and whether NATO has the right to expand eastwards, but the Russia-NATO Council session hints at a willingness to patch up diplomatic ties and avoid any accidental clashes in the region.

“Our discussions will focus on the crisis in and around Ukraine and the need to fully implement the Minsk Agreements,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said in a statement.

He was referring to the peace deal signed in Belarus last year that aims to end the conflict involving pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine (see background).

“We will also look at military activities, with a particular focus on transparency and risk reduction, as well as the security situation in Afghanistan,” the statement said.

Obama schedules his last trip to Europe

US President Barack Obama will visit Poland and Spain in July, in what will likely be his final presidential trip to Europe, a continent that has often presented more problems than opportunities during his term.

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