Anyone who toasted New Year's Eve that 2020 should be a quieter, more peaceful year can already throw their glass against the wall: the conflict between Iran and the USA escalated right at the beginning of the year. Donald Trump ordered the infamous Iranian general Kassem Soleimani to be killed, and the Iranians responded to the murder with rocket strikes against American bases in Iraq. The Iraqis are in turmoil, the Europeans startled, even the Saudis in panic. There is currently growing evidence that a Ukrainian Airlines passenger plane may have been shot down by a missile. Even if another war seems to have been averted for the time being - 176 people were killed in the plane crash. The conflict could also plunge the region into even more chaos, with implications for the whole world.
In this situation Angela Merkel does not travel to Washington - she flies to Moscow. Vladimir Putin invited her.
If Merkel and Putin will speak in the Kremlin on Saturday about Libya, the Middle East, Syria, but also Ukraine, then it can be seen as a success of Russian diplomacy. Whether you like it or not, this type of diplomacy, understood as a pure interest policy, is currently quite effective. While Europeans seem overwhelmed, the US is pulling out of the Middle East and somehow not, while Congress is tweeting Trump's Middle East policy and a letter from the U.S. Department of Defense to withdraw the U.S. from Iraq, is denied, Vladimir Putin goes on tour. He meets Assad in Syria while visiting the Russian troops, shakes hands with Erdoğan at the inauguration of the TurkStream gas pipeline, calls Macron, plans to meet Sissi in Egypt soon - it would be the twelfth meeting in six years.
In short: The Russians know how to fill the vacuum that the Americans leave behind internationally. And the emptiness that Europeans currently maintain in diplomacy, too.
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Gone are the days when Obama mocked Russia as a regional power. Putin was able to hold Assad in Syria and balance an unstable balance between the interests of Turks, Kurds, Iranians and Israelis. In Libya, Russian mercenaries are fighting on the side of the Libyan General Haftar - recently also against the Turks who support the Libyan government, but for the time being, agreement was reached and a ceasefire was announced together. Russian military aircraft use the air bases in Egypt. Soleimani was received in Moscow, his death is now mourned - Russia allows the Iranians in their claim to power to Lebanon as long as you remain a partner in Syria.
Even in Europe, which (still) sticks to sanctions against Russia, the Kremlin manages to get out of political isolation a little bit - despite attacks (Skripal, Changoschwili), hacker attacks and unmasked secret service operations. Macron is accommodating Putin, Paris is finally negotiating peace in Ukraine - but not without Putin's preconditions. In any case, the Ukrainians did not want the Steinmeier formula, also called Putin's formula by their opponents, but they had to accept it. It's just a bitter footnote that one of Putin's advisers, who presented the Russian side at the Paris meeting, has been on the European sanctions list since 2014 and has actually been banned from entering the country.
There are two main reasons for the Russian success. For one thing, Russian diplomacy is considered very professional. "Russia has always been proud of its diplomatic school, and it seems to me that it is not without reason," writes Andrej Kortunow, director of the Kriac think tank Riac. Russian secret service agents may allow themselves disastrous mishaps, but the Russian diplomats are considered to be excellently trained, fluent and experienced.