SOCHI • German Chancellor Angela Merkel said European Union sanctions will have to remain on Russia, given the lack of progress in resolving the simmering conflict in Ukraine.
Addressing a joint press conference with President Vladimir Putin in the Black Sea resort of Sochi after two hours of talks yesterday, Dr Merkel said a ceasefire is required as part of the so-called Minsk process for restoring peace in eastern Ukraine and appealed to the Russian leader to make it happen.
She said she would like to be able to lift the economic penalties but that the Minsk process remains "arduous" with small steps forward and steps back. "My goal remains to get to the point where we can lift EU sanctions," the German leader told reporters. "But there's a link here."
Moscow's relations with the EU are at a post-Cold War low over the Ukraine crisis. Kiev and the West accuse Moscow of giving military support to the rebels in eastern Ukraine, a charge it denies.
Dr Merkel was on her first visit to Russia since 2015, seen as a signal of renewed dialogue despite profound rifts over Ukraine and the war in Syria, where Mr Putin's military backing for leader Bashar al-Assad has set him at odds with the West.
Berlin has said ahead of yesterday's meeting that it would "above all" focus on the upcoming Group of 20 summit in Hamburg in July and that no breakthroughs were expected on disagreements, although Mr Putin earlier called for ties "to fully normalise".
Dr Merkel has strongly backed EU sanctions on Russia for seizing Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and supporting the pro-Kremlin separatist insurgency in the east of the country. Moscow has responded with an embargo on agricultural products from the West. A European-brokered peace plan to end the conflict has hit a dead end.
Mr Putin, asked about American allegations that Russia had meddled in last year's United States presidential election, said they were based on rumours and that Moscow did not want foreign powers to interfere in Russian politics.
When Dr Merkel was asked about concerns of Russian interference in Germany's federal election in September, she said that "all I can say is that I'm not a fearful person".
"I'm going ahead with my election campaign, based on what I believe in," she told reporters.
Dr Merkel was in Russia in her capacity as holder of the G-20 presidency. The G-20 is now the only format for Russia to meet the other major international powers after its exclusion from the G-8, now the G-7.
At the G-20 summit, Mr Putin is expected to meet US President Donald Trump. They have spoken on the phone twice and Mr Putin was set to get another call from the US leader after his meeting with Dr Merkel.
Mr Putin is due to meet Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan today. The two men have inched closer on Syria as Mr Erdogan's ties with Europe have plummeted.
BLOOMBERG, REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE