Putin to Merkel: Syrian Refugees Are a 'Burden on Europe'


German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she would discuss the conflicts in Ukraine and Syria, as well as Iran and the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project with Russian President Vladimir Putin during their meeting on Saturday.

Both Russia and Germany have been affected by U.S. tariffs, while Moscow has also been hit by sanctions.

Standing beside Putin, Merkel said both countries - but especially Russian Federation as a permanent member of the UN Security Council - had a responsibility to tackle these problems.

Earlier on Saturday, Putin attended the wedding of Austria's Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl in the small town of Gamlitz.

The invitation to visit Germany by Merkel, Putin's most implacable critic since he annexed Crimea in 2014, is a break from his isolation that also reaffirms the German leader's pivotal role in Europe.

Achim Post, a senior member of the Social Democrats, junior partners in the coalition government, said that he expects both Merkel and Putin to look for pragmatic solutions based on common interests.

Putin told reporters that such a move had to make sense for Moscow from a business perspective.

"All the more symbolic and harmful to court the Russian president in this manner", he said on Twitter.

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Ukranian officials are concerned Russia could stop delivering natural gas through Ukraine, which works as a transit country for Russian natural-gas export to the European Union and levies a fee on the trade, after Gazprom's transit contract expires at the end of 2019, since there would be less demand for it.

The United States and some European countries have criticized the pipeline, saying it could increase Europe's energy dependence on Russian Federation, harm Ukraine - now a major gas transit country - and pose an environmental risk.

"Nord Steam 2 is purely an economic project and it doesn't close the door to shipping gas through Ukraine", Putin said.

The pipeline was a key topic in the two leaders' bilateral talks, which also included other controversial issues such as stability in Ukraine and Syria and the future of the Iran nuclear deal.

In the years since Putin's previous bilateral visit to Germany, he and Merkel have met at worldwide events including the 2017 Group of 20 summit in Hamburg.

However Putin's attendance was originally described as a "private event" by Kneissl's office but has since been upgraded to a "working visit". Merkel and Putin agreed to take steps to protect the project, Peskov said.

Kneissl does not belong to a party, but she was appointed by the populist Freedom Party (FPO), which has a cooperation agreement with Putin's United Russia party.