Towards the end of her tenure, Angela Merkel said she had lost any influence she over Vladimir Putin. She told the German magazine Der Spiegel last year that she “no longer had the power to push her ideas through,” adding: “At my final meeting in Moscow, the feeling was clear: from a political power point of view, you’re finished. For Putin, it is only power that counts.” For years, Mrs Merkel faced criticism for what was seen as her allowing Germany to become increasingly dependent on Russian gas supplies. Prior to her resignation, she and Putin had plenty of opportunities to get to know each other: Mrs Merkel was in power for 16 years while her Russian counterpart was in office for some two decades years. And although they did not see eye to eye on the likes of Ukraine and Syria, the pair did have something of a bond, and soon became well-versed in each other’s tastes.
They would frequently talk on the phone with Mrs Merkel speaking to Putin more than any other Western leader since the Ukraine crisis began in 2014.
The two were not thought to be close despite their former frequent “constructive and factual” talks, although they do have some shared experiences.
Mrs Merkel speaks fluent Russian, having grown up in what was East Germany during the Cold War.
Similarly, Putin was stationed in Dresden which was then in the German Democratic Republic — East Germany — before the fall of the Berlin wall while working for the KGB for more than a decade. He also speaks German.
A two-hour promotional film about Putin, released in 2018, revealed that the Russian President and the former German Chancellor used to send each other produce from their respective countries, fully knowing how much the other liked the foreign goods.
While living in Dresden, Putin enjoyed the local tipple, drinking three litres of beer a week. He loved Radeberger Pilsner so much that he actually put on weight while living there and would often visit Radeberg, the small town in which the beer was brewed.
Speaking about his time drinking the famous brew during the late Eighties in the 2000 book, From the First Person: Conversations with Vladimir Putin, he said: “We regularly went to the small town of Radeberg, and there was one of the best breweries in East Germany.”
Mrs Merkel was aware of his preference, as he revealed during the documentary that, “from time to time, Angela sends me a few bottles of Radeberger beer.”
Putin would return the favour, as Merkel said she too received a delivery from Russia: “It’s well known that the Russian president likes German beer. For my part, I once got some very good smoked fish.”
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Although the pair sent each other local delicacies, it is not to say they had a good relationship. However, some say Mrs Merkel never sought to isolate Putin as others such as French President Emmanuel Macron had done — although the Frenchman is today one of the only world leaders to regularly get through to Putin — with some critics describing her as too soft on Putin.
Towards the end of her tenure in 2021, Mrs Merkel made a “farewell visit” to the Kremlin, marking the end of what had been a tense relationship for over a decade.
Germany’s Süddeutsche Zeitung newspaper wrote that before the visit that August no other politician on the global stage had been “so good at getting on badly over such a long time as these two”.
On one famous occasion, Putin sought to intimidate her by allowing his labrador Koni to approach Mrs Merkel, who is afraid of dogs after she was attacked by one in 1995.
The former German leader looked visibly uncomfortable during the incident, later telling reporters that she “understood why” Putin did it: “To prove he’s a man,” before later adding: “He’s afraid of his own weakness.”
Although Putin appeared to be smirking during the encounter, he told the German newspaper Bild in 2016 that he had not meant to intimidate her, instead saying that he was trying “to do something nice for her”. He said: “When I found out that she doesn’t like dogs, of course, I apologised.”
Mrs Merkel led EU members in imposing sanctions on Russia following its illegal annexation of Crimea in 2014.
But the Nord Stream 2 project saw her come under fire from those in Europe who said she was putting Europe at risk of dependency and that Putin could not be reasoned with — despite her saying that in private she would not hold back when it came to criticising the Russian leader.
The pair’s relationship is perhaps one of the more peculiar diplomatic tangos of the 21st century and one that will go down in political history.