Merkel and Putin clash over Navalny jailing at Moscow meeting

German chancellor calls for release of Russian opposition leader a year after poisoning

Russian president Vladimir Putin welcomes chancellor Angela Merkel with a bouquet of flowers at the Kremlin. It was the chancellor’s final visit to Moscow. Photograph: Evgeny Odinokov/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images

Russian president Vladimir Putin welcomes chancellor Angela Merkel with a bouquet of flowers at the Kremlin. It was the chancellor’s final visit to Moscow. Photograph: Evgeny Odinokov/Sputnik/AFP via Getty Images

 

German chancellor Angela Merkel has asked Russia to support international efforts to stabilise the humanitarian crisis triggered by the Taliban takeover in Afghanistan.

On her last official meeting with President Vladimir Putin, exactly a year of after opposition leader Alexei Navalny was poisoned, the German leader described his ongoing imprisonment in a penal colony as “unacceptable”.

The chancellor criticised the 45-year-old’s 2½-year sentence for violating the terms of a previous suspended sentence, which was described as “disproportionate” by the European Court of Human Rights.

“I demanded of the Russian president the release of Alexander Navalny and said we would remain on the case,” she said.

Mr Navalny was poisoned with what the West concludes was a military-grade nerve agent in an attack it believes was carried out by Russian intelligence. Moscow accuses the West of making baseless allegations. After recovering in a Berlin clinic, Mr Navalny was jailed after he landed in Russia.

In an open letter to mark the anniversary, published in three European newspapers on Friday, Mr Navalny appealed to western leaders to step up their action against corruption in countries such as Russia.

“The battle against corruption without a battle against people is hypocritical,” wrote Mr Navalny, describing Mr Putin as “the moral leader of the corrupt”.

At a joint press conference in Moscow, Mr Putin avoided mentioning Mr Navalny’s name and said all Russian citizens’ right to free expression ended when the law was broken.

“We don’t want any revolutions any more,” he said.

Afghanistan

On Afghanistan, he urged the West to accept the new reality after a failed, 20-year attempt to impose “foreign values”.

“The Taliban control virtually the entire country, including the capital, this is the reality,” he said.

The Russian leader said the priority now must be to prevent terrorists from infiltrating Afghanistan’s neighbouring countries disguised as refugees.

Dr Merkel described the chaotic end of the Nato mission in Afghanistan as a “very frustrating moment”.

“But it is part of a realistic assessment that it is as it is,” she said.

Asked on Friday about their relationship, which reached a low point with the Russian annexation of Crimea, Dr Merkel insisted Friday’s talks were “constructive”.

Mr Putin agreed, and thanked the German leader for her efforts over the years which had often yielded “good fruit”.

On Ukraine, he said the situation remained unstable because the government in Kiev had decided the situation was “not to be resolved peacefully”.

Despite ongoing tensions over Ukraine, and her last-minute deal with the US to salvage the Russian Nordstream 2 gas pipeline, Dr Merkel said she was simply “happy that we are still talking”.

End of relationship

Friday marks the end of one of the longest relationships in modern politics, dating back to their first official meeting in 2002.

Mr Putin served as a cold war KGB agent in Dresden and speaks German. Dr Merkel grew up in communist East Germany and speaks Russian. After countless chilly encounters, Mr Putin presented his German visitor with pink roses.

The German leader offered her host a sober reflection on their years together on the international stage.

“They weren’t always easy talks,” she said.