Merkel to meet Putin amid diplomatic row over Berlin murder

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is to hold one-to-one talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Paris on Monday, ahead of a summit on Ukraine and amid a growing diplomatic row over the murder of a Georgian activist allegedly by Russian state actors.

Government spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer revealed no details about the meeting in her announcement in Berlin on Friday.

At the same summit, Merkel also plans to hold one-to-one talks with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Speaking at the NATO summit near London on Wednesday, Merkel was sharply critical of Moscow in relation to the August 23 shooting of the 40-year-old Georgian of Chechen origin in a small inner-city park.

Federal prosecutors took over the case in an indication of the priority it is being given and the fact that investigators suspect state actors were behind the murder.

The Foreign Ministry on Wednesday expelled two Russian diplomats, and Merkel said the decision was based on the lack of help in clarifying the incident, in a comment made on the sidelines of the NATO summit.

Merkel has previously said that she does not expect the case to overshadow the upcoming summit in Paris, which is to be hosted by French President Emmanuel Macron.

It is the first such meeting at this level in the past three years, and aims to resolve the conflict in eastern Ukraine between pro-Russian separatists and the Ukrainian government.

Germany seeks to boost the process following Zelensky’s election in May. Government sources cited a prisoner swap in September, the partial withdrawal of troops along the front line dividing the two sides and the construction of a bridge as hopeful signs.

Earlier on Friday, Merkel’s chief of staff called on Moscow to help in resolving the Berlin murder.

Referring to the diplomatic expulsions, Helge Braun told Der Spiegel news magazine: “We see the expulsions as an extremely urgent signal to the Russians to comprehensively support us in establishing the identity and personal background of the suspected perpetrator.”

“Against the backdrop over months of a lack of support, I have no understanding for the fact that Russia is outraged and is considering countermeasures,” he said.

A 49-year-old man with a Russian passport has been detained in connection with the Berlin killing. The suspect, also implicated in the murder of a Russian businessman in 2013, has maintained his right to keep silent.

Also speaking to Der Spiegel, Norbert Roettgen, chairman of the German parliament’s foreign affairs committee, said the expulsions were appropriate.

The investigation had to ascertain whether the murder was part of a Russian pattern of eliminating agents who had deserted and other enemies of the Russian state while abroad, he said.

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