While many were amused by this photo of Putin and Merkel during the world cup final showing Europe's two most important leaders siding side by side, some were more curious by just what the two were scheming:
Thanks to the Independent, we may know the answer, and it is a doozy, because according to some it is nothing shy of a sequel to the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact: allegedly Germany and Russia have been working on a secret plan to broker a peaceful solution to end international tensions over the Ukraine, one which would negotiate to trade Crimea's sovereignty for guarantees on energy security and trade. The Independent reveals that the peace plan, being worked on by both Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin, "hinges on two main ambitions: stabilising the borders of Ukraine and providing the financially troubled country with a strong economic boost, particularly a new energy agreement ensuring security of gas supplies."
Amusingly, this comes on the day when the WSJ leads with "On Hold: Merkel Gives Putin a Blunt Message. Germany's Backing of Russia Sanctions Marks Breach in Pivotal European Relationship" in which we read that " Angela Merkel spoke to Russian President Vladimir Putin for at least the 30th time since the Ukraine crisis erupted. She had a blunt message, according to people briefed on the phone conversation: Call me if you have progress to report in defusing the conflict. That was July 20. The two leaders haven't spoken since."
They may or may not have spoken since, but it is not because Putin has "no progress to report" - it's because the two leaders have come to a secret agreement which will hardly make Ukraine, or most of Europe, not to mention the UN, happy as it requires that Crimea be permanently handed over to Russia in exchange for Russian gas, which has been cut off for a month now due to non-payment by Kiev.
Here is how the deal came to happen:
Sources close to the secret negotiations claim that the first part of the stabilisation plan requires Russia to withdraw its financial and military support for the various pro-separatist groups operating in eastern Ukraine. As part of any such agreement, the region would be allowed some devolved powers.
At the same time, the Ukrainian President would agree not to apply to join Nato. In return, President Putin would not seek to block or interfere with the Ukraine’s new trade relations with the European Union under a pact signed a few weeks ago.
Second, the Ukraine would be offered a new long-term agreement with Russia’s Gazprom, the giant gas supplier, for future gas supplies and pricing. At present, there is no gas deal in place; Ukraine’s gas supplies are running low and are likely to run out before this winter, which would spell economic and social ruin for the country.
As part of the deal, Russia would compensate Ukraine with a billion-dollar financial package for the loss of the rent it used to pay for stationing its fleets in the Crimea and at the port of Sevastopol on the Black Sea until Crimea voted for independence in March.
To be sure, in the aftermath of the MH-17 shooting, which in light of this revelation would clearly not benefit Russia, negotiations have stalled they are expected to restart once the investigation has taken place. “It is in everyone’s interests to do a deal. Hopefully, talks will be revived if a satisfactory outcome can be reached to investigations now taking place as to the causes of the MH17 catastrophe."
But while Germany can't wait to put the Ukraine conflict behind it and restore normal Russian relations (see Adidas' record plunge earlier today, blamed on the Ukraine conflict) others are far more eager to stir the pot some more: "A spokesman for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office said they had no knowledge of such negotiations taking place. However, the spokesman said he thought it highly unlikely that either the US or UK would agree to recognising Russian control over Crimea. There was no one available at the German embassy’s press office yesterday."
Which, of course, goes back to the fundamental question behind the Eurozone experiment: just who calls the shots. And despite what the UK (and certainly France) believe, that one person was and continues to be Merkel. And at the end of the day, pragmatic Germany knows that for all the posturing and rhetoric, the biggest loser from a western embargo of Russia (which is now actively shifting its attention to China and now India) would be Germany itself.
[S]trong trade ties between the two countries have also served to strengthen Ms Merkel’s hand and the Russian speaker has emerged as the leading advocate of closer relations between the EU and Russia. “This is Merkel’s deal. She has been dealing direct with President Putin on this. She needs to solve the dispute because it’s in no one’s interest to have tension in the Ukraine or to have Russia out in the cold. No one wants another Cold War,” said one insider close to the negotiations.
Some of Germany’s biggest companies have big operations in Russia, which is now one of Europe’s biggest car markets, while many of its small to medium companies are also expanding into the country. Although Russia now provides EU countries with a third of their gas supplies through pipelines crossing the Ukraine, Germany has its own bilateral gas pipeline direct to Russia making it less vulnerable than other European countries.
However, Russia is still the EU’s third-biggest trading partner with cross-border trade of $460bn (£272bn) last year, and the latest sanctions being introduced by the EU towards Russian individuals and banks will hurt European countries more than any other – particularly Germany, but also the City of London.
Curiously, if there is one entity that could scuttle the deal it is, no surprise there, the US.
Central to the negotiations over any new gas deal with Gazprom is understood to be one of Ukraine’s wealthiest businessmen, the gas broker, Dmitry Firtash. Mr Firtash – who negotiated the first big gas deal between the Ukraine and Russia between 2006 and 2009 – is now living in Vienna fighting extradition charges from the Americans. But he has close relations with the Russian and Ukrainian leaders – he supported Mr Poroschenko – and has been acting as a go-between behind the scenes at the highest levels.
Incidentally, the same Americans which over the past 2 years has been desperate to start a regional war in any one part of the globe in order to break some more windows and boost GDP courtesy of the tried and true "Military Industrial Complex" GDP boost. Which is why if indeed the Ukraine peace process is in the arms of the US, then perhaps Putin's advisor was spot on when he said that "There is a war coming in Europe." Compliments of the United States?
Finally, for those wondering how much of the Independent's story is a fabrication, here is Germany denying it all:
- GERMANY: REPORT OF SECRET DEAL ON UKRAINE `TOTALLY UNFOUNDED'
Which, if Jean-Claude Juncker is any indication, seals it.