Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier arrived in Moscow on Thursday (13 February) for a two-day visit. The trip centred around extensive political consultations with his opposite number in Russia, Sergey Lavrov. On the Friday (14 February), Steinmeier also met President Putin and representatives of civil society.
Steinmeier and Lavrov took plenty of time for their talks, with Thursday evening’s long dinner, where the spotlight was on the situation in Ukraine, followed on Friday morning by more extensive discussions among the delegates. The focus there was on such international issues as the situation in Syria and nuclear talks with Iran, as well as bilateral matters – both German-Russian relations and the relationship between Russia and the European Union.
Working on a “positive German-Russian agenda”
At a joint press conference with his opposite number, the German Foreign Minister highlighted the outstanding significance of German-Russian relations, saying this represented both a responsibility and an obligation. Despite the two countries’ “in some ways still divergent concepts of state and society”, he said, silence between Berlin and Moscow was not the answer. More dialogue was what the situation called for, he averred. Steinmeier continued:
In my view, we mustn’t reduce our relations to our differences alone; we should highlight what we have in common more and work on a positive German-Russian agenda.
The German Foreign Minister stressed the need to use partnerships like the modernisation partnership in place between Russia and the EU to clarify differing perspectives and seek ways of bringing the different points of view closer together. Examples he gave were exchanges for young people, shared universities and cooperation pertaining to the rule of law.
Ukraine: not a geopolitical chess match
Steinmeier also reported that the two Foreign Ministers had spent a long time discussing the situation in Ukraine. They were of one mind, he said, on the need for Russia and the EU to talk about long-term prospects in Europe in order to prevent any future crisis like the one gripping Ukraine. He said that the crucial thing here was the “reciprocal pledge that each side would ensure greater transparency with regard to its own policy”. Above all, Steinmeier went on, Ukraine must not become a “geopolitical chess match”:
What goes on in Ukraine must not be about securing geopolitical spheres of influence. We have to enable the people of Ukraine to choose freely which path they want to take in future.
Fresh momentum for bilateral relations
On Friday afternoon, Foreign Minister Steinmeier had a meeting with President Putin. Afterwards, Steinmeier emphasised the open and constructive nature of their talks on bilateral relations which, he said, “could do with some fresh momentum”. There will be lots of opportunity for that over the coming weeks and months, which will see a whole series of bilateral meetings between Germany and Russia – including the bilateral intergovernmental consultations and meetings at the up-coming G8 summit. All in all, as Steinmeier saw it, the important thing was to really make full use of the potential of German-Russian relations while at the same speaking openly about differing conceptions of civil rights and the rule of law. Alongside bilateral relations, Steinmeier and Putin also discussed the situations in Ukraine and Syria.
This was followed by extensive talks between the German Foreign Minister and representatives of Russian civil society.
Steinmeier’s visit to Moscow highlighted his desire to continue consolidating Berlin and Moscow’s relations. In an interview with the Russian daily Kommersant on Friday, the Foreign Minister spoke of his wish to work on a shared future with Russia: “It is important to me to be offering Moscow trust-based, constructive collaboration right from the start of my term in office.” Before departing on his trip, Foreign Minister stressed Germany’s reliance on cooperation with Russia in an article in the magazine Focus: “We need Russia to solve nearly all security policy crises and conflicts of our time.”