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The Daily Vertical: Pay-To-Play Diplomacy (Transcript)

The views expressed in this commentary do not necessarily reflect the views of RFE/RL.

Sometimes an offhand remark can unintentionally be awkwardly timed.

And sometimes that offhand remark -- and its awkward timing -- can speak volumes.

In comments after meeting with German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier yesterday, Vladimir Putin said that "despite certain political difficulties" relations between Moscow and Berlin were "not at a standstill."

The Kremlin leader then added that German companies were eager to expand their business with Russia.

As Putin and Steinmeier met, the magazine Stern gave us a hint about just how eager they are.

Stern reported that prosecutors in Mannheim were opening an investigation into whether a German engineering firm paid 8 million euros in bribes to Russia in return for contracts on the Nord Stream-1 gas pipeline.

This, apparently, is what Putin means by expanding business ties.

And this is presumably an example of relations not being at a standstill.

Putin's remark and the Stern report are actually two sides of the same coin.

The Kremlin leader was effectively offering a bribe -- end those pesky sanctions and your business community can make a lot of money with us, never mind that a lot of it will end up off the books.

And for Putin, this has the added benefit of using graft and shady deals to establish a network of influence.

It's just another example of how Putin's Kremlin has weaponized corruption.

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