Friday

7th Oct 2022

EUobserved

Did Merkel do a deal with Putin on Afghan refugees?

  • Russian president Vladimir Putin with German chancellor Angela Merkel last Friday (Photo: kremlin.ru)
Listen to article

Ukraine claims Germany did a deal with Russia on Afghan refugees to snub its recent Crimea summit, but EU diplomats find it hard to believe.

"[Russian president Vladimir] Putin demanded of [German chancellor Angela] Merkel the withdrawal of [German foreign] minister [Heiko] Maas from the Crimea Platform and she abided by his wishes," a Ukrainian government source told EUobserver, referring to this week's Crimea summit and to a meeting between Putin and Merkel last Friday (20 August).

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Become an expert on Europe

Get instant access to all articles — and 20 years of archives. 14-day free trial.

... or subscribe as a group

  • German foreign minister Heiko Maas declined to go to Kyiv at the last minute (Photo: bundeskanzlerin.de)

"We have also heard that, in Moscow, Putin convinced Merkel of Russian influence with the Taliban, including when it comes to dynamics that will determine how large the flow of migrants is from Afghanistan to Europe, especially Germany," the source said.

"Ukraine and its territorial integrity are being used as a bargaining chip by Germany and Europe in their relations with the Kremlin," the Ukrainian source added.

The Ukrainian contact said he had proof of his allegations, but he declined to share it, referring to the sensitivity of the information and the need to protect sources.

He also cited circumstantial facts which, he said, indicated that Putin had been "emboldened" by his Merkel meeting.

Russia, the same day, also blacklisted Ukraine's foreign minister, Dmytro Kuleba, because of the Crimea summit, for instance.

"Sanctioning a foreign minister is extremely rare," in terms of international diplomacy, the Ukrainian source noted.

Germany's Maas had been due to attend the Crimea Platform in Kyiv on Monday and Tuesday to showcase EU resistance to Russia's occupation of the Ukrainian peninsula.

But Maas pulled out at the last minute, citing the need to focus on Afghanistan evacuations, with Germany sending its economy and energy minister, Peter Altmaier, instead.

The German foreign ministry did not reply to EUobserver's questions.

But a German source played down the last-minute change, saying Altmaier was a close ally of Merkel and an important figure in Germany's ruling coalition.

"I don't think minister Altmaier would see himself as a downgrade," the German contact said.

Meanwhile, France and Italy made similar downgrades to their Crimea Platform delegations, in what Ukraine saw as the major EU states following Germany's lead.

But an EU diplomat also poured cold water on Ukraine's claims of a Merkel-Putin deal.

"It sounds like a typical Ukrainian conspiracy theory," he told this website.

The fact Merkel went to see Russia before going to Ukraine and that she sent Altmaier still created bad optics in Kyiv, the EU diplomat noted, however.

"Ukraine's [other] allies sent presidents, prime ministers, foreign, or defence ministers [to the Crimea summit], because the occupation of Crimea is not a matter for energy ministers," he said.

Altmaier is also "associated in Europe with a pro-Russian agenda, not least because he is a big supporter of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline from Russia to Germany, which harms Ukraine by making its EU gas-transit system obsolete.

"It was senseless of Altmaier to go [to Kyiv] and it looked like a provocation," the EU source said.

"But Germany has had a 'Russia first' policy for over 30 years and nothing has really changed," he said.

For all that, the question remains whether Putin is able to leverage the Afghan crisis to frighten EU leaders into making deals.

Refugee politics

For the EU diplomat, Russia and Belarus had, together, tried to aggravate EU fears on immigration by recently pushing thousands of Arab and African asylum-seekers over the Belarusian border into Lithuania and Poland.

"This looks like a joint [Belarus-Russia] operation," he said.

But for one Belarusian opposition activist, who asked not to be named to protect his safety, even if Putin was telling Afghan scare stories to EU leaders, then he was bluffing.

The last thing Putin would want, politically speaking, would be to open a corridor for Afghan refugees to go through Russia en route to the EU, the Belarusian source said.

"German [federal] elections are in September, so Russia would have a very small window of opportunity for such operations," the source noted, referring to the threat that new arrivals of refugees might harm Merkel's party in the vote.

"Meanwhile, the [1980s-era] Afghanistan war is a bad memory for all Russians. Chechnya [a majority Muslim Russian region] and its terrorism have also left their mark. To play with all this before the parliamentary elections in Russia [in September]? Islamic refugees on Russian territory during tough elections? I'm not so sure," he said.

Far left and right MEPs less critical of China and Russia

MEPs have shown consistent support for action against authoritarian regimes other than Russia or China, but unanimity requirements in the votes of the European Council are considered a clear impediment for a more effective EU foreign policy.

Von der Leyen offers funding for resettling Afghans

EU Commission chief said the EU executive was ready to provide funding for EU countries that helped resettle refugees and planned to raise the resettlement issue at a G7 meeting on Tuesday

EU prepares to keep out Afghan refugees

EU countries are preparing to stop Afghan refugees from potentially entering Europe en masse, amid fears of a repeat of the 2015 migration crisis.

Column

The Iranian regime's expiration date

This 'headscarf revolution' is about women's rights and human rights in general, plus police brutality. Moreover, it is a leaderless revolution that is not driven by a leader or a group, but erupted spontaneously.

News in Brief

  1. Sweden: Nord Stream probe points to 'gross sabotage'
  2. Orbán rails against Russia sanctions at Prague summit
  3. MEPs urge inquiry into Mahsa Amini killing and Iran sanctions
  4. Thousands of Hungarian students and teachers protest
  5. Swedish MEP cuts hair mid-speech to support Iran women
  6. Danish general election called for 1 November
  7. Slovenia legalises gay marriage, adoption
  8. Russia's stand-in EU ambassador reprimanded on Ukraine

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Obama FoundationThe Obama Foundation Opens Applications for its Leaders Program in Europe
  2. The European Association for Storage of EnergyRegister for the Energy Storage Global Conference, held in Brussels on 11-13 Oct.
  3. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBA lot more needs to be done to better protect construction workers from asbestos
  4. European Committee of the RegionsThe 20th edition of EURegionsWeek is ready to take off. Save your spot in Brussels.
  5. UNESDA - Soft Drinks EuropeCall for EU action – SMEs in the beverage industry call for fairer access to recycled material
  6. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic prime ministers: “We will deepen co-operation on defence”

Latest News

  1. What actually happened at the 'most complicated election in the world'?
  2. Europe lays aside quarrels to isolate Putin
  3. Spyware-hacked MEPs still seeking answers
  4. EU leaders discuss gas price cap — amid rationing fear
  5. Germany braces for criticism of national €200bn energy fund
  6. The fossil-fuel agenda behind EU's carbon-capture plans
  7. Four weeks to COP27 — key issues and challenges
  8. EU wants to see US list on Russia financing of politicians

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EFBWW – EFBH – FETBBConstruction workers can check wages and working conditions in 36 countries
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic and Canadian ministers join forces to combat harmful content online
  3. European Centre for Press and Media FreedomEuropean Anti-SLAPP Conference 2022
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic ministers write to EU about new food labelling
  5. Nordic Council of MinistersEmerging journalists from the Nordics and Canada report the facts of the climate crisis
  6. Council of the EUEU: new rules on corporate sustainability reporting

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us