German Chancellor Angela Merkel has arrived in Russia for talks on major issues, including the crisis in Ukraine and Syria.
Merkel arrived in the resort city of Sochi on the Black Sea on Tuesday for a one-day visit, where she met with Russian President Vladimir Putin.
The key visit, Merkel’s first to Russia in two years, would mainly focus on the conflict in eastern Ukraine and the violence in Syria that has gripped the country since March 2011.
Reports over the past weeks have said that Putin is seeking to ease tensions between Russia and Germany in the meeting with Merkel.
"We must use this opportunity to talk about our relations and about more problematic issues, such as Ukraine and Syria and perhaps some other regions," said Putin as he welcomed Merkel.
Putin told Germany's foreign minister during a recent visit that it was a common goal for Moscow and Berlin to “fully normalize relations and to make sure all the difficulties we face are overcome.”
The Kremlin said earlier in the day that the meeting would be an opportunity "to discuss the current state and prospects of bilateral relations."
Berlin, on the other side, has said that no major breakthroughs should be expected on bridging the deep rifts between the two sides on major international issues. Merkel’s visit to Russia is said to be mostly concentrated on the upcoming G20 summit in Hamburg.
Germany and Russia are parties to a major peace agreement in February 2015 in Belarus, which was supposed to end the fighting in Ukraine. However, the Minsk II accord has yet to be fully respected by the warring sides as both pro-Russia forces and the Ukrainian military accuse each other of violating the terms of the agreement.
Putin and Merkel met in October to revive the peace process and to end the bloodshed in Ukraine, which has claimed more than 10,000 lives over the past three years. A main issue that is expected to be raised in Tuesday’s talks between the two leaders is Germany’s support for sanctions imposed on Russia over the crisis in Ukraine.
Germany and Russia are also at odds over the situation in Syria, where Russia has been assisting Damascus in the fight against terrorism. Germany, along other Western governments, supports militants fighting the government of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Peace in Syria can be achieved under UN auspices: Putin
President Putin told reporters after the meeting with Merkel that the only way out of the conflict in Syria was to stick to negotiations under the auspices of the United Nations.
"A solution in Syria can be only found by peaceful means and under the aegis of the United Nations," he said.
Putin also said those responsible for a suspected chemical attack in Syria last month should be held accountable. "Those guilty must be found and punished," Putin said, adding, "But this can be only done after an impartial investigation."