Last updated in March 2016
Russia’s annexation of Crimea in contravention of international law and its actions in eastern Ukraine overshadow German-Russian relations as well as Russia’s relations with the European Union and other Western partners. In response to Russia’s actions, the EU has imposed incremental sanctions on the country (asset freezes and travel bans on individuals and companies as well as sectoral economic and financial sanctions). At the same time, the Federal Government has repeatedly made it clear that the door to partnership with Russia remains wide open and that it actively and emphatically supports efforts to resolve the conflict through dialogue. Germany and France in particular have, at the most senior level, pressed for observance of the September 2014 Minsk Agreements. At a summit attended by Germany, France, Russia and Ukraine in Minsk on 12 February 2015, a package of measures for the implementation of the Minsk Agreements was adopted.
In 2015, German exports to Russia fell by 25 per cent compared with the previous year, to EUR 20.2 billion (after having declined by 18 per cent for the whole of 2014, and by 5 per cent in 2013). This means that bilateral trade has been almost halved since 2012. Russian exports to Germany declined by 26 per cent, to EUR 30 billion. Russia’s principal exports to Germany are raw materials, in particular oil and natural gas, as well as metal goods and petrochemical products. Germany’s main exports to Russia are mechanical engineering products, motor vehicles and vehicle parts, chemical products, food and agricultural produce.
In 2015, the number of companies with German capital interest in Russia fell by 7 per cent, to 5,583. Even more pronounced was the decline in the number of branch and representative offices of German companies in Russia, which shrank by nearly 24 per cent compared with 2014.
Many regions in Russia, e.g. the Republic of Tatarstan and the Kaluga Region, are actively seeking to attract foreign investment. Incentives are being offered, ranging from the creation of industrial parks and special economic zones to the provision of land, buildings, transport infrastructure and connections to customs and tax concessions and cutting red tape. German companies are concerned about the political climate in Russia, the country’s economic development and protectionist tendencies that continue despite Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization.
Quite apart from this, doing business in Russia requires circumspection and careful consulting on account of the country’s many idiosyncrasies. Customs clearance, certification and administrative procedures often still prove difficult.
Culture and education
There is a lively exchange between Germany and Russia in the cultural and education sectors. Following the bilateral German-Russian Year of Education, Science and Innovation 2011/2012 and the Year of Germany in Russia 2012/2013, crossover years of language and literature, featuring numerous events, were held in Germany and Russia in 2014 and 2015. This led to a further intensification of exchange between the two countries at the level of civil society. A joint German-Russian youth exchange year is to kick off in June 2016.
With some 1.5 million learners, 1.1 million of them school students, German occupies an undisputed second place in foreign language teaching in Russia, after English. As part of the Schools: Partners for the Future initiative (PASCH), more than 100 schools receive support to build and develop their German teaching. Here, there is close cooperation between the Central Agency for Schools Abroad and the Goethe Institute.
The Goethe Institute organises a wide spectrum of cultural events and offers a comprehensive range of language courses in Russia, as well as boasting a wide network of partners in Russia’s provinces.
In the keynote speech he gave at the Ural Federal University in Ekaterinburg in December 2014, Federal Foreign Minister Steinmeier emphasised that the two countries had built a good foundation for academic relations and called for efforts to further expand cooperation in this area. There are currently more than 880 partnerships between higher education institutions in the two countries. In the past year alone, there were more than 15,000 Russians studying in Germany, nearly one in ten of them on a German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) scholarship. Over 1,700 German DAAD scholarship holders have gained experience at universities and research institutions in Russia. There are a number of academic teachers funded by the DAAD and the Robert Bosch Foundation working at Russian universities.
The German-Russian Institute of Advanced Technology was opened at the Kazan National Research Technological University in September 2014. At this institute, Russian engineering students are taught according to German standards.
The Federal Government strongly supports efforts to step up school and youth exchange with Russia. To this end, in 2006 it launched the Hamburg-based German-Russian Youth Exchange Foundation together with other partners. So far, nearly 100,000 young people from both countries have participated in the projects it has conducted, the annual highlight being the German-Russian Youth Parliament, which met most recently in November 2015 in Moscow. The German-Russian youth exchange year began in June 2015 under the motto 70 Years After the End of the Second World War – Youth Exchange – Understanding – A Common Future.
The Federal Government promotes efforts to preserve the cultural identity of the German minority in Russia (numbering approximately 400,000). The work includes language and education as well as social, community-support and other cultural projects.