Merkel urges working with Russia despite Ukraine fears

German chancellor Angela Merkel yesterday paid tribute to Soviet soldiers killed in WWII as she called for co-operation with Russia amid tensions over Ukraine.

Merkel flew to Moscow to lay a wreath at the grave of the Unknown Soldier at the Kremlin Wall, in an apparent compromise gesture after she skipped Russia’s main festivities on Saturday.

Meeting her host Vladimir Putin for talks at the Kremlin, she stressed the importance of co-operation.

“It’s necessary for us to work, to co-operate including over complicated situations — the way the situation is now — and try to find diplomatic solutions,” Merkel said at the start of the talks after the ceremony.

Russia on Saturday staged a huge parade to mark the 70th anniversary of victory over Nazi Germany but most Western countries boycotted the festivities over Russia’s annexation of Crimea and support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Many are concerned Putin is using WWII festivities to justify Russia’s meddling in Ukraine and promote his nationalism-tinged agenda.

Putin shrugged off the Western snub and instead played up ties with Asia, Latin America and Africa.

“Everyone we wanted to see was here,” he said on Saturday evening.

Just before meeting Merkel, Putin hosted 91-year-old Zimbabwean president Robert Mugabe, who praised him for standing up to Washington and noted that their two countries had been slapped with sanctions.

“That is the reason why we should remain together,” Mugabe said.

But Putin also signalled his willingness to mend ties with Europe when he hosted Czech president Milos Zeman, one of the few European leaders to fly to Moscow for the festivities.

“It was not us who initiated the chill in relations with Europe but I hope that thanks to politicians like you we will manage not only to revive them completely but to also move forward,” Putin said on Saturday.

The Czech leftwing leader for his part said he was confident that “normal ties will replace the chill.”

Like Putin, many Russians shrugged off the Western no-show as they celebrated Victory Day. Some 500,000 people marched through central Moscow with portraits of relatives who fought in the war, in the biggest march of Putin’s 15-year rule. Putin joined them with a portrait of his veteran father Vladimir in his hand.

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