Nothing is worse than a lack of communication, and that’s true also in relation to Russia, Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier stressed during his visit to Moscow. His appointments there included talks with President Putin on the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine.
Foreign Minister Steinmeier held intensive talks with Russia’s political leaders on Wednesday. He spoke to President Vladimir Putin, and also met with Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev in the afternoon.
Earlier, in his talks with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov, Steinmeier had underscored that his visit would focus on the major conflicts in the neighbourhood. Having regard to yesterday’s appalling attacks in Brussels, the two foreign ministers were united in stating that the terrorist threat must be faced down together.
Syria: Joint pressure must be maintained
With regard to the efforts to further calm the situation in Syria, Foreign Minister Steinmeier expressed cautious optimism about the suspension of hostilities there, which has now endured for almost three weeks. He recalled that this was the first time supplies had got through again to hundreds of thousands of people, and that the Geneva talks between opposition and regime representatives had got off to a “promising start”. At the same time, Steinmeier called for further engagement:
If this process is to be successful, if it is to point to a political settlement to the Syria conflict, we must keep up our commitment and, where necessary, maintain our joint pressure on the parties to the conflict.
Steinmeier referred to further vital improvements as regards humanitarian access and an exchange of prisoners. He said emphatically that “Nobody – including all the parties to the conflict – may now play for time.”
Ukraine: Progress also needed on the political process
The conflict in Ukraine was also a central subject of Steinmeier’s talks in Moscow. At his joint press conference with Lavrov, Foreign Minister Steinmeier said:
Neither of us can be happy with the security situation in eastern Ukraine. Despite all efforts, we are forced to conclude that the ceasefire is still being violated frequently, and that the security situation in eastern Ukraine remains unstable.
Steinmeier was concerned that the situation could escalate anew at any time. That was why he felt progress on security issues was so urgent, especially on improved compliance with the ceasefire and better access for the OSCE Special Monitoring Mission (SMM). Above and beyond that, he also called for urgent progress to be made on the political process. Foreign Minister Steinmeier did not mince his words:
Constitutional reform, local elections – the prerequisites are still not in place. We must work on creating these prerequisites. This morning, we promised each other that we would continue to seek ways of bridging the differences currently preventing us from solving the problems.
German-Russian contacts need space
In Moscow on Wednesday, Steinmeier also met with civil society representatives. Foreign Ministers Steinmeier and Lavrov also attended a ceremony at which Margret Wintermantel, the President of the German Academic Exchange Service, and Nikolay Kropachev, the Rector of St Petersburg University, signed a declaration of intent to establish a German-Russian grant programme for junior executives.
At the press conference in the Foreign Ministry, Steinmeier stressed that Germany and Russia “still have much more” in common “than some media reports and public debates would have you think.” He continued:
Our relations draw their lifeblood from a wealth of contacts in the social and cultural spheres, in business and in politics. It is my conviction – as I have said before – that it is precisely in difficult times like these that we have to give these contacts plenty of space.
Steinmeier was thus particularly glad to assume the co-patronage of the 2016-2017 German-Russian Year of Youth Exchange together with the Russian Foreign Minister. He said:
The aim must be to ensure that future generations are also willing to work on Russian-German relations and perhaps also to find new ways to engage with each other.