President Vladimir Putin was rebuffed in his desire for a bigger Russian stake in aerospace firm EADS on Wednesday, as he ended a two-day German visit clouded by the murder of investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya.
Putin had hoped to further Russian business interests on a trip that took him first to the eastern city of Dresden to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel on Tuesday, and to Munich on Wednesday, but he came at a time of deep suspicions in Europe over Russia’s intentions.
Bavarian state premier Edmund Stoiber said he had talked to Putin about EADS and told him there were limits to foreign investments in sensitive sectors.
“I asked him to understand that in some strategic industries there are limits to taking reciprocal stakes,” Stoiber said. “We must both respect each other’s interests.”
Germany worries that Moscow is trying to use revenues from its vast oil and gas reserves to wield greater global influence.
Stoiber’s comments were a clear warning to Putin — who makes no secret of his wish to invest further in Germany — that he should steer clear of seeking a strategic investment in EADS after a Russian bank bought 5 percent of it.
But Putin hit back in a speech to business leaders in the Bavarian capital.
“We do not understand the nervousness in the press about Russia investing abroad,” he said. “Where does this hysteria come from?” LR: Note that anyone who disagrees with Russia is “hystrical” and should be put in a mental ward. Everybody knows that, just ask Stalin! Russia kicks Europe and America out of the Shtokman project and then it’s “shocked, shocked” that they retaliate. Classic Neo-Soviet lunacy.
“The Russians are coming here, not on tanks and with Kalashnikov assault rifles in their hands; they are coming with money, and they deserve to be welcomed and helped in their work,” Putin said. “It’s not the Red Army that wants to come to Germany,” he said. “It’s just the same capitalists as you.” LR: They just can’t help talking about the army, can they? What’s the subtext? Give us what we want or the army will come?
Moscow has been pushing for a seat on the EADS board and Putin told the SЯddeutsche Zeitung newspaper on Wednesday that he favored Russia boosting its stake in the Airbus parent, which has dual headquarters in Munich and Paris.
Putin also pushed for visa-free travel between Russia and other European countries. “Our goal is an exchange without visas,” he said. “After the fall of the Berlin wall, no new walls should be allowed to appear in Europe.”
Putin was meeting business and regional leaders in Munich and noted Bavaria’s strength in the high-tech sector.
“This is an especially important area of cooperation for us because one of the main jobs in the short term is for us to diversify the Russian economy,” Putin told reporters.
Putin brought with him Economic Development and Trade Minister German Gref and IT and Communications Minister Leonid Reiman, as well as leading business figures such as Pyotr Aven, head of Alfa Bank; Oleg Deripaska of Russian Aluminum; and Alexei Mordashov, head of steelmaker Severstal.
A range of corporate deals has been signed during the visit, and both the president and Stoiber stressed the potential for closer cooperation in future.
Siemens, Europe’s largest engineering company, on Wednesday announced an agreement worth up to 450 million euros ($565 million) with Renova to upgrade Russian energy, transport and telecommunications resources.
The agreement covers areas including power generation, power distribution, telecommunications and airport modernization, Munich-based Siemens said in an e-mailed statement.
Putin has made much of Germany’s reliance on Russia for its future energy needs during his visit. Memories here are still fresh of the supply disruptions in January after Gazprom cut deliveries to Ukraine.
Germany is the biggest foreign end-user of Russian gas, importing 40 billion cubic meters per year. Imports will rise substantially when the Nord Stream pipeline is completed in 2010 to carry Russian gas directly to Germany under the Baltic Sea. Gazprom is building the pipeline with German utility E.On and chemicals group BASF. Dutch Gasunie is to take a 9 percent stake, and Putin said Germany could become a gas distribution hub for Europe.
The Bavaria talks come on the heels of Putin’s announcement in Dresden on Tuesday that Gazprom would use natural gas from the Shtokman field under the Barents Sea to more than double the amount of gas it sends to Germany each year, adding some 55 billion cubic meters per year.
Also on Tuesday, German Deputy Foreign Minister Gernot Erler said his government had drawn up plans to help German and Russian companies swap stakes in an attempt to foster political stability in Russia and mutual profit.
The German Foreign Ministry “is considering a program of intertwined companies,” Erler said. “We hope to develop a win-win situation based on mutual dependency.”
Questions about Saturday’s killing of Politkovskaya did not abate during the trip.
Stoiber said he had discussed the issues of freedom of speech and expression in light of the killing, and that Putin had assured him Russia would strengthen those freedoms.
Columnist Masha Gessen adds more detail (the column notes, without explanation, that this is Masha’s final column for the Moscow Times; LR would like to know why):
So Vladimir Putin, formerly a KGB agent in East Germany, and Angela Merkel, a former citizen of that former country, met in Dresden the other day. She forced him, finally, to utter the name of slain journalist Anna Politkovskaya in public. That goes to show how far each country, as personified by its leader, has come since the collapse of the Soviet Bloc. And it goes to show some other things as well.
First, it shows that Putin will deign to respond to Politkovskaya’s murder only when international protocol — and an international leader — demands it. His one other comment on Politkovskaya came during a telephone conversation with U.S. President George Bush, who had expressed particular concern about the murder of Politkovskaya, who was born in the United States and had U.S. citizenship. Other than that, Putin was apparently too busy to mention the murder publicly or even to send condolences. The day after the murder, Putin congratulated figure skater Alexander Gorshkov on his 60th birthday. He wished the actor Leonid Kuravlev a happy 70th. But he did not find the time to express condolences to the family of Anna Politkovskaya.
Second, the statement Putin did make shed an unexpected amount of light on his view of Politkovskaya and the press in general. One might even deduce something of the way he views human life from his statement. “She had minimal influence on political life in Russia,” said the president. “This murder does much more harm to Russia and Chechnya than any of her publications.”
There we have it. The measure of a journalist’s influence is the amount of harm he or she does to the state. Journalists, in other words, are saboteurs, enemies of the state — if effective — and pests and thorns in the president’s side if they are less widely read or heard. A number of measures Putin has instituted in this country since coming to power shifted Politkovskaya from the status of enemy of the state to that of pest. Ever since the Kremlin took over all national television channels, Politkovskaya disappeared from the airwaves — though she had been a frequent, and extraordinarily articulate, talk show guest during the early months of the second war in Chechnya. Ever since the retail sale of newspapers was effectively banned two years ago — an ostensibly counter-terrorist measure taken after Beslan was to forbid newspaper vending within 25 meters of a public transport stop — Novaya Gazeta’s press run dwindled to the point where its influence was really limited to the highly motivated few.
Unfortunately for the Kremlin — or, rather, for Putin’s apparent idea of what’s good for the state — he could do almost nothing to limit her international audience. Politkovskaya placed op-ed pieces in the major U.S. papers. Her books came out in English, French, German and the Scandinavian languages. She received a number of international journalism awards. She was in extremely high demand abroad as a public speaker. Outside Russia, she was as close to a celebrity as political journalists come. Did that make her a bit more than a pest? Probably. It may have made her an enemy.
But I have to agree with something Putin said. Politkovskaya’s murder has done, and continues to do, major damage to the Russian government, and perhaps even more specifically, to the Russian president. This is because the murder has exposed him, with unprecedented clarity, as a callous, cruel and cynical man. It has also exposed him as small-minded and afraid of responsibility. The head of state in a country where a journalist is killed for doing her job would properly feel responsible and concerned even if he were convinced that the murder was committed by some crazed thug. In this country, where government-appointed officials and law enforcement officers are among the most obvious suspects, the president apparently cares only about pointing the blame away from himself. This state is very badly damaged indeed.