German Chancellor Angela Merkel will meet with Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday, as Berlin-Moscow relations remain stuck at a low over the Ukraine crisis and Syrian war.
Merkel will meet with Putin at his summer residence in Sochi on the Black Sea coast, making her first trip to Russia since 2015.
The issue of sanctions is likely to be high on the agenda. Merkel has openly backed the European Union's decision to place sanctions on Russia following Moscow's annexation of the Crimean Peninsula from Ukraine in 2014. She has been the lead mediator in talks with Russia over Crimea.
The EU sanctions -- as well as U.S. sanctions -- on Russia have been a major thorn in the Kremlin's side. Moscow has lobbied world leaders to drop the restrictions that have taken a toll on the country's economy, already sluggish on low oil prices.
The sanctions are due to expire this summer and the EU is discussing their extension.
Moscow has responded to the sanctions with its own embargo on agricultural goods from Western countries.
Putin and Merkel are expected to discuss the Minsk agreements, a deal brokered by Merkel and French President Francois Hollande with the aim of resolving the Ukraine crisis.
Germany has said that lifting the sanctions would depend upon Russia complying with the agreements, which involve a ceasefire and pulling weapons and pro-Russian forces out of the area.
The two leaders have been careful to assuage expectations that they will come up with new agreements on the trip, which is expected to keep Merkel in the country for less than five hours. But the trip suggests a diplomatic thaw between the leaders has begun.
Putin and Merkel, both stalwart leaders in their countries, have kept regular communications open over the years. Both speak each other's language and have overseen periods of expanded Russian-German trade relations.
But that closeness didn't come immediately. Putin was infamously accused of trying to intimidate Merkel in her early years as chancellor when he brought his dog -- a large black Labrador named Koni -- into a bilateral meeting and press conference in 2007.
Merkel is reportedly fearful of dogs having been attacked by one in 1995. She was photographed looking distinctly uncomfortable while Putin appeared to smirk. Putin just last year finally denied trying to scare her.
Merkel and Putin split on Syria
Putin and Merkel will also discuss the fight against terrorism and the situation in the Middle East, the Kremlin said in a statement.
The two leaders and their governments stand on opposing sides of the Syrian war. Putin is the most powerful ally of embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Merkel has openly called for Assad's ouster, though she advocates doing so through a democratic political process.
Russia has been widely criticized by the West for propping up Assad's regime with powerful airstrikes that have decimated swaths of the country.
The leaders will also discuss the current state and prospects of bilateral relations, including energy, trade, economic, cultural and humanitarian cooperation, the Kremlin said, and will exchange views on the forthcoming G20 Summit to be held in Hamburg in July.
Putin also plans to speak with US President Donald Trump before Merkel's arrival, a spokesman for Putin told state-run media TASS. The two leaders are expected to have their long-awaited first official meeting at the G20 summit, although they have spoken several times on the phone.
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan will also travel to Sochi to meet with Putin on Wednesday, as the two leaders enjoy improved relations following a troubled period. Turkey is increasingly looking to Russia as an ally as the country's relations with the West sour.
This BBSNews article originally appeared on News | WPLG.