Bilateral and international issues will be on the agenda at the meeting of Foreign Ministers Heiko Maas and Sergey Lavrov, ranging from the gas pipeline Nord Stream 2 and international disarmament treaties to the conflict between Russia and Ukraine. Both countries shoulder responsibility in the UN Security Council, in the Normandy Format working to resolve the conflict in Ukraine and as supporters of the WHO in the global fight against COVID-19.
There is also plenty to discuss with regard to bilateral relations. Cyber attacks such as the one targeting the German Bundestag and the so-called Tiergarten murder have put relations under strain in recent months. At the same time, close cooperation continues to take place in the areas of civil society and culture. For example, a German-Russian Year of University Collaboration and Research is soon to draw to a close, and a new Year will focus on the topic of business and sustainable development.
Foreign Minister Maas issued the following statement today (11 August 2020) before departing for Moscow and St Petersburg:
It is always best to have a frank discussion when there is need for clarification. That is why I am travelling to Russia today for the first time since the start of the COVID‑19 pandemic. It is no secret that we have found ourselves in troubled waters since last year, not least due to the murder in Berlin’s Tiergarten, which the Federal Public Prosecutor General believes was the work of Russian state agencies.
50 years of the Moscow Treaty
The visit is taking place on the eve of a special anniversary: 50 years ago, on 12 August 1970, the Moscow Treaty between the Federal Republic of Germany and the Soviet Union was signed. The Treaty laid the foundation for the new Ostpolitik pursued by Federal Chancellor Willy Brandt, which led to détente between East and West and ultimately paved the way for German unification.
Siege of Leningrad: 872 days of starvation and suffering
The second part of the trip by Foreign Minister Maas centres on commemoration of the Siege of Leningrad. For 872 days, almost two and a half years, the German Wehrmacht besieged the north Russian city of Leningrad during the Second World War, causing a harrowing period of starvation and suffering. The city’s 2.5 million inhabitants were cut off from food supplies, and more than one million people died. On 27 January 1944, what is now St Petersburg was liberated by Soviet troops.
A gesture of reconciliation
Germany recognises its historical responsibility. In January 2019, Foreign Minister Maas therefore agreed with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov to set up projects to help survivors of the Siege of Leningrad. As a gesture of reconciliation and commemoration, the German Government is funding the modernisation of a hospital for war veterans in St Petersburg. Large numbers of survivors of the siege are treated in this hospital. The funding is intended to support them. The first delivery of modern therapy equipment has now arrived in St Petersburg. In the course of his trip, Maas will meet the hospital manager for what will be a symbolic handover due to COVID-19.
The German Government is also funding the establishment of a German-Russian Centre in St Petersburg, where Germans and Russians, including survivors of the siege, will be able to meet each other to talk and remember the past. During his visit, Maas will participate in a – partly virtual – meeting and talk to survivors. Maas is expected to arrive back in Berlin late on Tuesday evening.
Foreign Minister Heiko Maas:
I will also visit St Petersburg. The siege of Leningrad by the German Wehrmacht, an abominable war crime committed against the Russian people for which Germany bears responsibility and which we must never forget, ended 75 years ago. A little over a year ago, I came to an agreement with my Russian counterpart on a humanitarian gesture for the benefit of the siege survivors. I am pleased that this is now finally taking shape in the form of our support for the hospital for veterans.