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Russian President Putin To Meet Merkel, Talk To Trump By Phone

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

No Western leader knows Russia's president, Vladimir Putin, better than German Chancellor Angela Merkel. And their relationship has been difficult. You think about Ukraine. You think about the sanctions on Russia. You think about the conflict in Syria. Well, today, Putin will greet Merkel in the resort town of Sochi. That's a resort town he loves. It is where the 2014 Winter Olympics were held. And this is Merkel's first visit to Russia in two years. NPR's Lucian Kim is in Moscow and joins us. Good morning, Lucian.

LUCIAN KIM, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: So why this Putin-Merkel meeting and why now?

KIM: Well, I think you could actually ask why has it taken so long? Yeah, Merkel has really reduced her contacts with Putin to a minimum. She's really been focused on finding a peaceful resolution to the conflict in Ukraine which has largely disappeared from the headlines. Her official reason for coming now to Russia is to prepare for the G20, the Group of 20 major economies summit in Germany in July. But, of course, the timing is really important.

The European Union today is looking probably more vulnerable than it has ever. And Putin is looking like the most stable leader in the region. So I think it's kind of a recognition that you need to talk to Russia if you want to solve any problems.

GREENE: That is amazing to have arrived at that point where European countries feel like Putin is the most stable potential ally. So that's really what Merkel's trying to get from Putin, some sort of promise that he's going to work with Europe in a progressive way, in a productive way?

KIM: Well, maybe not as an ally, but, I mean, he's not going away. He's been, you know, in power since 2000. The only other leader is Merkel that's been around that long. But I think it's - it's, as I said, it was more - it's more of a recognition that you're going to have to deal with him if you're going to reach a resolution in Ukraine or in Syria. He has become the indispensable leader. And I think that's why Merkel is also - is going and is ready to talk to him.

GREENE: How do Russians view this meeting? Do they want Putin to get closer to leaders like Merkel in the West?

KIM: Well, I think for Russians it's very important or for Putin it's very important to be seen as someone who is a major player. So by speaking to Merkel, that obviously helps him. And he's really been on a roll. He just spoke with Japanese Prime Minister Abe last week. And tomorrow, he's going to meet the Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, in Sochi, as well. So I think this - the international buzz around him definitely helps him because it shows that Russia is a player that the rest of the world cannot ignore.

GREENE: Well, and speaking of that, I mean, he has - Putin also has a phone call with President Donald Trump later today. How does that all fit into his diplomacy?

KIM: Well, that's really key. I mean, what's interesting is that it's coming after the Merkel phone call. And, you know...

GREENE: The meeting, yeah.

KIM: ...A lot of the - exactly. And a lot of the same issues are - affect the U.S.-Russian relations. That's Ukraine, Syria, terrorism. And under Obama, Merkel handled a lot of the European relations. So it's going to be interesting if Trump will also farm out, you know, dealing with Putin to Merkel.

GREENE: OK, speaking to NPR's Lucian Kim in Moscow about some diplomacy that Vladimir Putin is taking part in today, including a phone call with Donald Trump. Lucian, thanks so much.

KIM: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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