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Meeting Putin, Merkel keeps a frenemy close

Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel Meets Russia’s President Vladimir Putin
Not blinking. Source: Bloomberg

Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel had a chance to catch up this weekend in their first meeting since their Sochi summit in May. The pair have a contentious relationship but the meeting was framed by the duo’s even more fraught relation with that wild-haired leader of the US, which made their meeting seem normal and good news. Mr. Putin flew in fresh from the wedding of the Austrian foreign minister and was set to address Ukraine, Syria, and natural gas with Merkel.

On Saturday night, the leaders committed to work on the Nord Stream 2 pipeline and expressed concern about Syria. So far, so good: Healthy trade relations matter. Though Mr. Trump criticized the pipeline as increasing Germany’s energy dependence on Russia, and advised Berlin to buy (his) LNG instead, that’s an expensive option. Berlin will beef up its terminals to be able to import liquid natural gas from the United States but in the meantime, Nord Stream 2 will increase Europe’s energy security, given the ongoing tensions in the Middle East.

But there are major differences between Merkel and Putin, from Russia’s failure to withdraw from Ukraine to Moscow’s continuing support for Syria’s Assad. No amount of waltzing at weddings or Cossack choirs can distract us from the fact that Moscow causes more problems than Mr. Putin pretends to resolve.

While we’re talking about unresolved problems, today marks the end of the Greek bailout and while Germany’s finance minister called this a success, economists are skeptical. Greece is the fourth-poorest country in the EU and, with debt at 180 percent of GDP and unemployment above 20 percent, people in Greece are suffering. Mistakes were made, from the initial underestimation of the problem to cost-cutting that drove Greece deeper into recession, and myths abound, fanned by provocative coverage. Athens’ towering to-do list spans reforming tax and administration systems and finding ways to stimulate growth and innovation.

Germany has it easier, and as high-tech reshapes the country’s corporate sector, carmakers are now spending more on R&D than any other industry. VW, the world’s biggest automaker, places fifth globally for R&D spending, in a ranking topped by Amazon and Google parent Alphabet. Volkswagen and its peers will need to put all the cash they can into the mobility revolution but, for VW at least, lawsuits are cramping its style. Friday night brought news that the company is firing engineers who incriminated managers in Dieselgate. The past just won’t die, even as the carmaker leads the drive into the digital world of the 21st century.

And speaking of the unquiet past, here’s something completely different: New research about the death of Bavaria’s King Ludwig II in 1886 suggests the official verdict was fake news. He apparently didn’t commit suicide but was victim to a coup, declared insane and murdered. The evidence includes witness testimony about bullet holes in the king’s coat and a deathbed confession from the doctor who examined his body. You may have seen the romantic monarch’s castles and grottoes, now let’s hear his long-suppressed story.

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