KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:
The leaders of Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine have been meeting in Berlin today. They are trying to revive a peace agreement for Eastern Ukraine. The so-called Minsk Peace Accords were signed early last year, but they've done little to stop the fighting. German Chancellor Angela Merkel had also planned to use these talks to take Russian President Vladimir Putin to task over his country's actions in Syria. NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson is covering the meeting, and she's with us now from Berlin. Hello.
SORAYA SARHADDI NELSON, BYLINE: Hi, Kelly.
MCEVERS: So this is the first time Putin has been in Berlin since Russian forces seized Crimea. Why was he invited now?
NELSON: There were several reasons. For one, it's been a year since the quartet has met or had last met. They had done so - I guess it was exactly one October ago, in fact. And President Putin is reported to have expressed interest in holding this meeting and doing so in Berlin. So at the same time, Chancellor Merkel and President Hollande of France decided this was an opportunity to really hammer the Russian leader about the escalating violence in Syria. And then last but not least, there was an EU summit - or there is an EU summit - starting tomorrow where leaders are going to be discussing relations with Moscow. So this was an opportunity to get some input for that.
But despite all this enthusiasm for this meeting, this first visit by Putin to Berlin, which is actually the first one in four years, definitely wasn't very friendly. There were many protesters outside of the chancellery that were shouting against Putin, including one group that dumped a hundred red-stained teddy bears on the ground to symbolize Syrian - symbolize Syrian children being killed by Russian and Syrian forces. And at the same time, President Putin was rather - he had his own issues. He showed up 30 minutes late. And he brought along a pair - according to some reports - brought along one of his advisors who who's on the EU sanctions list and is therefore banned from traveling to Europe and to Berlin.
MCEVERS: How are the talks I mean, have there been any signs of progress yet?
NELSON: Well, it's a good sign that the meeting is still going on five hours after it began. I mean, for one thing, this is a really costly war for Russia, so it's pretty clear that President Putin would like to actually get something accomplished. On the other hand, Chancellor Merkel was telling reporters earlier today that she wasn't expecting a, quote, "miracle."
NELSON: What's really needed is that - or what experts say is really needed - is that both sides need to adhere to the cease-fire so that international inspectors can monitor the situation, pull back heavy weapons at some stage. You know, that would be each side will pull back its heavy weapons, followed by lighter weapons.
MCEVERS: Did Merkel, in fact, take Putin to task over Syria?
NELSON: Well, that is what she said she planned to do. And certainly that is a - it's a key issue with the protesters outside. I mean, with the fact that talks have failed between Russia and America, this is something that is very - that was very key to this agenda.
MCEVERS: Yeah, relations between the U.S. and Russia are pretty bad right now. Is there reason to believe European leaders will make more progress with Putin right now - you know, better than the Obama administration has?
NELSON: Well, the fact that they're talking is always a good thing. This has been going on for five hours, as I mentioned. And so that's something that was seen as being a good sign, at least, according to people who've been talking about it so far. And as one senior German MP told a German reporter earlier today, talking is better than shooting.
MCEVERS: That's NPR's Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson in Berlin. Thank you very much.
NELSON: You're welcome, Kelly.
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