Putin to host Merkel for talks on Middle East, Libya, Ukraine

Russian President Vladimir Putin is to host German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Moscow on Saturday at a time of heightened tensions in the Middle East.

Saturday’s talks will focus on the “situation in Syria and Libya, as well as the escalation of tensions in the Middle East following a US airstrike at Baghdad’s airport on January 3,” the Kremlin said.

The US airstrike killed top Iranian general Qassem Soleimani, unleashing fears of a new conflict in the region as Iran responded by firing missiles at US forces in Iraq.

Days after the US airstrike, a Ukrainian airliner crashed shortly after take-off near Tehran. An Iranian missile strike is suspected among the possible causes.

Merkel wants to discuss the “current trouble spots” in the Middle East, spokesman Steffen Seibert said earlier this week.

“Russia is an important actor on the world stage. And as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, it is also indispensable in terms of solving political conflicts,” Seibert said.

The two leaders last met last month in Paris for a renewed ceasefire effort for war-torn eastern Ukraine. Russia has also expressed support for a German peace plan for conflict-ridden Libya.

Merkel has one of the longest working relationships with Putin of any world leader. Due to her fluency in Russian and his German language skills – Putin once worked as a KGB officer in Dresden – the two world leaders are able to speak without interpreters.

Germany’s top diplomat, Heiko Maas, was to also participate in the visit.

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