|PUTIN’S DIFFICULT VISIT
MOSCOW. (RIA Novosti political commentator Boris Kaimakov)
Early October turned out to be a trying time for Russian President
Vladimir Putin. The murder of investigative journalist and his staunch
critic Anna Politkovskaya, who was gunned down in her apartment block in
Moscow last Saturday, provoked a whirlwind of negative emotions around the
It happened shortly before Putin’s visit to Germany, a country he loves,
and so he was not expected to follow the protocol, which requires trite
words about friendship and understanding between Russians and Germans.
The first thing he had to do after talking with U.S. President George W.
Bush on the phone was to speak about the journalist’s murder.
I don’t know why he did not do it before going to Dresden. I can assume
that he is made of flesh and blood, not iron, which would explain his
restraint on the issue. A public statement immediately after the murder
could even have been considered hypocritical, because Anna criticized not
only his policy, but also him as an individual.
This is why his statement in Dresden is so important, and not only because
he spoke in reply to a direct question from Chancellor Angela Merkel. His
words show that he was thinking hard about the murder, and that it shocked
Some of his statement could have been omitted, but the final words about
an “abominable crime” sounded very personal and even a bit guilty.
Dresden gave Putin a mixed welcome. Some people held posters accusing him
of suppressing democracy, whereas others offered heartfelt greetings.
Before earning an academic title and becoming a well known poet, Mikhail
Lomonosov studied at Marburg, which reveres his memory. Putin had his
Dresden. The city authorities have not yet mounted plaques on park benches
commemorating his time there, but he is well remembered in the beer hall
he used to frequent. In fact, many people here claim to have been friends
with the future Russian president and are proud of that fact.
Officially, Putin’s visit to Dresden and meeting with Merkel was part of
the Russian-German forum “St. Petersburg Dialogue”, which he had
initiated jointly with Gerhard Schroeder. There are not many meetings of
this kind in international practice, but this forum stands out even among
those that do exist. The leaders of the two countries are patrons of this
event, whose participants openly discuss major issues of bilateral
relations and global politics.
Gas has become a key word in Russian-German discussions in the past two
years. Moscow has made Berlin an offer it can’t refuse: it has invited
it to participate in building a gas pipeline along the bottom of the
Baltic Sea directly to Germany, which should become the main conduit for
gas to Western Europe.
Putin has shown Merkel an enticing picture, promising Germany up to 90
billion cubic meters of gas annually. If his promise becomes reality,
Western Europe will become dependent on Russia, which will in turn depend
on Western Europe to keep up its image as a reliable supplier. (Last
winter’s gas troubles with Ukraine showed how easily a reputation that
took decades to develop can be destroyed.)
The promise eased Putin’s way to the difficult part of the visit, the
Shtokman gas condensate project. The Germans suspected that their
participation hung in the balance because Moscow has grown economically
stronger and is no longer satisfied with such joint projects as Royal
Dutch Shell-led Sakhalin 2, or Western offers regarding Shtokman.
So, when German businessmen told Putin he had not lived up to their
expectations, the president was shocked into silence. But then he
recovered and said: “Gazprom analyzed all the offers. It did not want
investment, but an asset swap. None of the foreign companies offered
assets commensurate with their potential involvement in the development of
the Shtokman reserves.”
This statement seems to cover all aspects of the problem. Putin remains
true to his policy of strengthening state control of national resources. I
fully agree with The Washington Post in that Russia “continues to assert
its position as a global energy power”. This sounds scary to the West,
but although the Kremlin is criticized for many things, nobody has so far
proved that its policy is irresponsible.
German business is preparing to take up the Russian challenge, and
producers of equipment are lining up at Gazprom’s office. The process