Famous Negotiators: Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin

Famous Negotiators: Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin

This negotiation example from diplomatic negotiations not only sheds light on how to deal with a difficult person but also how to achieve your aims at the bargaining table


At a January press conference last year, German chancellor Angela Merkel dangled a carrot in front of Russian president Vladimir Putin: the possibility of a summit in Kazakhstan aimed at easing the Ukraine crisis, to be attended by her and the leaders of France and Ukraine. That carrot, however, was dangling from a significant string. For the meetings to occur, Merkel said, Russia would first have to make “visible progress” on all 12 points of the Minsk accord, the agreement that brought a shaky cease-fire to eastern Ukraine in September 2015, as reported in the New York Times. While the cease fire has endured, recent reports by the New York Times indicates that sanctions remain in place as of February 2016 and, indeed, the German Chancellor is pressing her Russian counterpart for further information (and concessions) with regard to the Russian-backed separatists in Eastern Ukraine and talks of a summit are nonexistent. Why would Putin listen to the German Chancellor, aside from wanting to remove the sanctions from Russia’s economy?

Angela Merkel is not only Putin’s closest negotiating partner in Europe but also stipulated the force behind the sanctions on Russia. Until Russia complies fully with its promises regarding Ukraine, these economic sanctions will remain in effect and the Russian domestic economy will continue to border on collapse.


Merkel and Putin’s Relationship and Its Impact on Diplomatic Negotiations

In his recent profile of Merkel in the New Yorker, journalist George Packer outlined the complex relationship that she and Putin have forged. Merkel, who grew up in East Germany and spent her young adulthood there, shares a common geography with Putin, a former KGB major who guarded the KGB bureau in Dresden, Germany, when the Berlin Wall fell in 1989. Merkel and Putin switch between German and Russian during their meetings and regular phone calls.

Merkel, a former scientist who prides herself on her rationality, is known for her ability to methodically analyze situations: “drawing comparisons, running scenarios, weighing risks, anticipating reactions, and then, even after making a decision, letting it sit for a while before acting,” writes Packer.

This ability to think before acting served her well with Putin. During 2007 negotiations between the leaders over energy supplies at Putin’s residence in Sochi, Russia, the Russian president allowed his dog to approach Merkel, who has been frightened of dogs since being bitten by one. As Merkel froze in terror, and reporters watched in horror, Putin stood by, bemused, refusing to call off the animal.

Merkel turned the moment into an opportunity to gain deeper insight into Putin’s character—while also calling him at his own game. “I understand why he has to do this—to prove he’s a man,” she told reporters afterwards. “He’s afraid of his own weakness. Russia has nothing, no successful politics or economy. All they have is this.”

Merkel remains the West’s best hope for convincing Putin to end Russian aggressions in Ukraine—and abandon any thoughts he may have of launching adventures elsewhere. “She has a way of talking to [Putin] that nobody has,” one of her senior officials told the New Yorker. Even as she engages in tough talk, she is working to help Putin find a way to make a graceful retreat. After observing to U.S. president Barack Obama that Putin was living “in another world,” Merkel is working hard to bring him back down to earth.


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