Precisely 60 years ago, against the backdrop of a highly tense political situation, the cities of Hamburg and Leningrad sent a courageous signal. Despite the German blockade of what was then Leningrad, which was still fresh in people’s memories, and the tensions of the Cold War, the two port cities established the first town‑twinning partnership between Russia and Germany in 1957. On 28 June, Foreign Minister Gabriel travelled to Krasnodar, Russia, for the town‑twinning conference and launched the German-Russian year of municipal and regional partnerships 2017/18. He then went on to visit the Russian capital.
“International understanding from the bottom up”
There are now almost 100 town‑twinning projects between Germany and Russia. This goes to show that, irrespective of the political situation, there are close ties between our two peoples.
Prior to the town‑twinning conference, the two Foreign Ministers Sigmar Gabriel and Sergey Lavrov declared that municipal and regional partnerships were an indispensable and fundamental component of Russia and Germany’s bilateral cooperation. “We are united by a common desire to increase the number and intensity of direct contacts between Russians and Germans through the numerous municipal and regional partnerships, thereby strengthening dialogue and understanding between our societies.”
They stressed the importance of more intensive dialogue, particularly in politically difficult times. Civil society initiatives such as youth exchange programmes and town twinning projects are ideal opportunities for bilateral cooperation, in addition to political dialogue. During a joint press conference with his Russian counterpart, the German Foreign Minister described this as “international understanding from the bottom up”.
Cooperation is better than confrontation
On the second day of his trip, the German Foreign Minister was able to gain a first-hand impression of the closeness and diversity of German‑Russian relations. During a visit to the company Claas, a manufacturer of agricultural machines based in Krasnodar, Gabriel recognised the potential contained in relations between the two countries. That is not only relevant for business. German‑Russian ties also exist in the areas of culture and sport. In this spirit, the Foreign Minister attended a street football tournament for tolerance, involving 80 football fans from Germany and Russia who gathered to play against one another.
That Germany and Russia only faced each other as opponents on the football pitch was not always the case. In the Russian State Archive of Socio‑Political History in Moscow, the Foreign Minister found accounts of the darkest chapter of recent German‑Russian history. Gabriel declared, “The horrors of the Nazi dictatorship and the Cold War warn us to cultivate our bilateral relations even in difficult times.”
Creating trust and overcoming conflicts
Gabriel said that the major international conflicts of our times could only be overcome by working together in a spirit of mutual trust. “We need a constructive Russia – in Syria, Libya and Afghanistan, and likewise in eastern Ukraine.” The Foreign Minister also made this clear during his meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin. He said that the widespread ceasefire during harvest time in eastern Ukraine should be used to work at political level towards establishing a permanent ceasefire. He added that this was the only way it would be possible to resume political talks at some point.