Merkel, Putin hold talks in Moscow

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, right, and Russian President Vladimir Putin smile during their meeting in the Kremlin in Moscow, Russia, Aug 20, 2021. (PHOTO / SPUTNIK, KREMLIN POOL PHOTO VIA AP)

MOSCOW – German Chancellor Angela Merkel began talks with Russian President Vladimir Putin in the Kremlin on Friday with ties at post-Cold War lows, her final official trip to Russia before she steps down after nearly 16 years.

Relations between two of Europe's longest serving leaders soured in 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine, drawing broad condemnation and sanctions from the West

Relations between two of Europe's longest serving leaders soured in 2014 when Russia annexed Crimea from Ukraine, drawing broad condemnation and sanctions from the West.

Putin gave Merkel flowers before the talks and said he expected a substantive meeting despite it being a "farewell" visit.

Merkel said the two had differences of opinion but that it was important to talk. She said she wanted to discuss Afghanistan as well as the situation in Russia with civil society and non-governmental organizations.

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Merkel, 67, grew up in former Moscow-backed East Germany and speaks Russian, while Putin, 68, was based in Dresden during the Cold War as a KGB officer and speaks German.

Putin and Merkel are likely to broach Russia's Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline to Germany, which is nearly complete despite US complaints that the pipeline will deal a huge blow to ally Ukraine by bypassing the historic gas transit country.

READ MORE: Merkel demands gas must flow through Ukraine after pipeline

Merkel is due to step down as chancellor after a Sept 26 election, while Putin, who has been in power for more than two decades, is next up for election in 2024, though he has not said whether or not he will run.