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World

Eastern Ukraine Top Obama's Meeting With Merkel

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

And let's hear more now about the effort for peace in Ukraine. And one of the central players, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, she is in Washington today to meet with President Obama. And we're on the line with Stefan Kornelius. He's foreign editor of the German daily newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung. He's also a biographer of Chancellor Merkel. Stefan, good morning to you.

STEFAN KORNELIUS: Good morning.

GREENE: Let me just ask you, I mean, Merkel seems to be trying to play a very critical role here in trying to resolve the Ukrainian conflict. She's been working with France to broker some sort of peace. I mean, can she actually pull something off here?

KORNELIUS: Well, she's trying for so many months now. And right now, we seem to have quite a good chance to at least move a step ahead. The last agreement they brokered in September - the Minsk agreement - was never implemented. But this time, there seems to be a good chance that because the stakes are higher and the interests have changed, all parties in this conflict seem to have an interest right now to come to some sort of an agreement. So I think the chances are pretty good.

GREENE: You actually feel like there are signals from Vladimir Putin and the Russians that they want to find some sort of peace right now. I mean, there's been a lot of speculation that President Putin is trying to exacerbate the situation no matter what.

KORNELIUS: Putin was playing the same game for almost a year. He was always signaling some kind of preparedness to come to terms with the West, then he was retreating, always pushing the line a little bit further. This time, I think, his situation has changed. The economic problems in Russia are mounting. The sanctions and the threat with further sanctions are real. And I think his hybrid warfare has to come to some end right now again. And he has now reached a limit and basically admitting that this is his work in the Donbass. So I guess he has to come out of the shadows somehow.

GREENE: Let me ask you about Angela Merkel and President Obama. I mean, I assume that the two of them would have to work together in some way to try and bring peace here. The chancellor's in Washington meeting with the president. There's been talk of the United States sending more arms to Ukraine, something that European leaders like Angela Merkel have been resistant about. Are they of the same mind or is there real conflict here?

KORNELIUS: What I hear is that both are on the same line. The president is very much resisting the idea of sending additional weaponry. Congress is making huge pressure there. Merkel is staunchly against it for a couple of arguments. Her main line is we can't win this arms race. Whatever we do, Putin will do more. This is not the Cold War. The U.S. doesn't have hundred - thousands of troops in the Ukraine, and the U.S. is not prepared to go to the very end of this story. So if you send weapons, you need to be prepared to actually send trainers. You need to be prepared to send further help if this is not enough. And nobody's actually prepared to fight a full-fledged war in Ukraine for Ukraine. So think of the end before you start that.

GREENE: Let's talk about the dynamic that President Obama's facing - pressure from lawmakers here to send more weapons to Ukraine. Angela Merkel comes resistant to that idea. Does she have President Obama's ear? I mean, what is their relationship like?

KORNELIUS: It's a remarkable relationship right now because Obama seems to have given Merkel so much ground in this. He has retreated almost fully from this conflict zone. He's not participating in the negotiations, and he's trusting Merkel on this. So if you ask me, he has no other chance - just to stick with her right now. If he would turn against her, that would split the West, and if the West has one asset it's its unity right now. So Obama is behind Merkel to do some (unintelligible) from Washington isn't too bad because showing Putin that his war might have a price and that weapons are one of those currencies we deal with isn't too bad. But, nevertheless, the U.S. has withdrawn from the negotiating table and has left that to Germany, so I guess that's why Merkel should keep the lead.

GREENE: All right. We'll be watching those meetings very closely today between German Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Obama here in Washington. We've been speaking to Stefan Kornelius. He's the foreign editor of the German daily newspaper Suddeutsche Zeitung. Stefan, thanks very much.

KORNELIUS: Sure, you're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.