When Chancellor Angela Merkel's gave the annual Lowy Lecture in November the day after the end of the G20 Summit in Brisbane, The Guardian (UK) called it a 'major shift in European geo-politics.'
Now we know why.
In a recent Financial Times series on the West's relations with Russia, the Times reveals that at the end of the first day of the Summit, Merkel sat down with Vladimir Putin for a lengthy meeting. This was Merkel's attempt at 'one last push' to reach a reasonable settlement to the conflict in eastern Ukraine, and to see what Putin really wanted.
During the meeting, and after the Russian President had listed his grievances against the West:
The chancellor steered the conversation back to eastern Ukraine, where Russian-backed separatists were engaged in a bloody struggle against the western-backed government in Kiev, according to a person familiar with the meeting. Since the crisis began, Ms Merkel had worked hard to extract some sense from Mr Putin of what he wanted — something she could use to construct an agreement. When he finally offered a solution, she was shocked. Mr Putin declared Kiev should deal with the rebels the way he had dealt with Russia’s breakaway Chechnya region: by buying them off with autonomy and money. A reasonable idea, perhaps, to an ex-KGB colonel. But for an East German pastor’s daughter, with a deeply-ingrained sense of fairness, this was unacceptable...
...When the hotel meeting broke up at about 2am, Chancellor Merkel and President Putin were in dark moods. Hours later, the Russian leader would fly home, missing the second day of the G20 summit and fuming about snubs from other world leaders. Ms Merkel, according to two people briefed on the outcome, left convinced there would be no quick end to the crisis.
And the day after, at the Lecture in Sydney:
She fretted, too, that Mr Putin’s ambitions to reassert Russian influence stretched beyond Ukraine. The next day in Sydney, she cast aside her usual caution. “Who would have thought it possible that 25 years after the fall of the Berlin Wall . . . something like this could happen in the middle of Europe?” she said in a speech. Mr Putin’s escapades in Ukraine called “the whole of the European peaceful order into question”. She also added a new warning — that Russia might come to threaten not just Ukraine, but Georgia or the Balkans...
...The Merkel-Putin encounter in Australia marked a turning point. After a year of crisis, the west realised that it had been pursuing an illusion: for all its post-communist tribulations, Russia was always seen to be on an inexorable path of convergence with Europe and the west — what a senior German official calls the notion that “in the end, they’ll all become like us”.
It seems the encounter in Brisbane and the Chancellor's speech in Sydney was the moment when the 'special relationship' between Angela Merkel and Vladimir Putin came to an end.