Speech given by Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, on 10 June 2009

10.06.2009 - Speech

President Osipov, Ladies and gentlemen,

There couldn't be a better venue for a speech on the future of German-Russian relations!

The Russian Academy of Sciences is one of the best products of the conflicts and changes in the rich relations between Germany and Russia.

These relations were shaped over centuries by a close, sometimes even symbiotic exchange that was far deeper than the ties between the ruling families.

I still have vivid memories of last spring's brilliant exhibition at the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin: “Power and Friendship – Berlin – Saint Petersburg 1800-1860”.

It brought an often-forgotten era of flourishing German-Russian culture to life. An era that calls to mind names like Alexander von Humboldt and Vasily Zhukovsky or the architects Karl-Friedrich Schinkel and Vasily Stasov.

And I certainly won't forget the discovery I made last year in Yekaterinburg: a Bauhaus post office! A testimony to mutual cultural inspiration beyond the Urals.

The Academy's first president, the Russian-born German Laurentius Blumentrost, is also an example of this intensive exchange.

Since the beginning of the 18th century, many German scientists have accepted the invitation to do research and teach in Russia.

German scholars have helped realize Peter the Great's vision of modernizing Russia and opening it up to Europe. They also cultivated understanding for Russia and its impressive culture in Germany.

In my opinion, academic relations between Germany and Russia are especially important for cooperation in many other areas. If Germany and Russia pool their creative forces, both countries, and ultimately the whole of Europe, will benefit.

At the same time, I admit that academic and cultural relations have always been and continue to be subject to the current political climate.

Therefore, as Gerd Koenen writes in Der Russland-Komplex (The Russia Complex), they alternated between fear and admiration, phobic defence and deep affection.

Today we can say that the days of transfiguring and demonizing the other side are behind us for good.

We have learned from history. We are aware of the many things we have in common. And we can openly discuss issues on which we disagree.

Above all, we know that we cannot afford to leave untapped the potential that lies in close German-Russian cooperation.

For today Russia and Germany face the same existential questions. We have a shared responsibility – for security and stability in Europe and Asia, but increasingly also for tackling major future challenges like climate change, energy security and restructuring the financial markets.

Russia is an indispensable partner for Germany and the EU on these issues. But we also have something to offer Russia: support and backing along the road to political opening and economic modernization.

It was for these reasons that President Medvedev and I agreed on a German-Russian partnership for modernization. We want to deepen our cooperation in strategic areas.

These include science and education, as well as climate and energy policy, health and demographic issues, logistics and enhanced cooperation on justice and the rule of law.

This partnership for modernization is beginning to bear fruit, also thanks to the engagement of the Petersburg dialogue. Many projects have been launched or are in the planning stage.

We are currently working together to establish a German Science and Innovation Forum in Moscow – a place for Russian and German scientists to meet. All German academic organizations will be housed there under one roof.

Many people from the academic, research and business worlds who are involved in the project are here today. I would like to thank them, especially the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) which is the project executing agency, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, the Fraunhofer Society and the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (German Research Foundation).

Allow me to say a special thank you to our Russian partners, especially my colleague Sergey Lavrov, for supporting this project. And thank you, President Osipov, for allowing the German academic organizations to temporarily use the facilities at the Russian Academy of Sciences. We appreciate this very generous gesture.

I am pleased with the progress we have made in the field of health and demography. The topping-out ceremony of the Centre for Pediatric Oncology, which I will attend with Prime Minister Putin today, is just one illustration of this progress.

We have also had some preliminary success in the area of climate and energy policy. With the help of our Russian partners and the German Energy Agency, we agreed to establish a Russian-German energy agency (RUDEA) to work for greater energy efficiency and innovative communal energy supplies.

These examples show that the German-Russian partnership for modernization has a broad agenda.

But my expectations of our partnership also extend beyond bilateral cooperation.

I view our cooperation in these important areas as a contribution to the construction of a community of shared responsibility made up of Germany, the EU and Russia. We have to assume responsibility for peace and stability in Europe.

The chances for a fresh start look good, especially in international security policy.

The commencement of Barack Obama's presidency presents a genuine opportunity for enhanced cooperation between the US, the EU and Russia. The spectre of a “new Cold War” has been banished.

President Obama has emphasized a fresh start in US-Russia relations. He is determined to focus on shared interests and cooperation with Russia.

The American President's outstretched hand should be courageously grasped. Hesitating or strategic bargaining can quickly close this window of opportunity again.

That is why I am calling on our partners here in Moscow and on everyone who cares about international security: Let us seize this unique, historic opportunity together!

Let us work together to establish a new partnership for security and stability, stretching from Vancouver to Vladivostok and beyond.

The path to this partnership is more difficult than it seemed in 1989-1990, when everything changed.

The return to old mindsets, prickly rhetoric and, above all, last summer's war in Georgia made clear that we are still far from achieving the goal of a lasting order of peace in Europe that extends to North America and Russia.

It is therefore even more important that we take advantage of the current sense of renewal in relations between the US, the EU and Russia in order to build new confidence – to ensure a shared, secure future in the Euro-Atlantic area.

I propose that we focus on building confidence in four specific areas:

First, we should create new confidence by taking bold steps in the sphere of nuclear and conventional disarmament as well as launching a renewed strategic dialogue.

2009 needs to be the year that international disarmament efforts are placed at the top of the agenda. President Obama and President Medvedev have agreed to negotiate a follow-up to the START I Treaty by December 2009.

This is a significant step along the difficult path to the world without nuclear weapons I aspire to achieve.

Global Zero isn't just a utopian dream, these days it is promoted just as much by the doyens of US foreign policy as by leading German and Polish politicians.

In terms of further reductions, the goal should be to completely eradicate 'relics' of the Cold War like sub-strategic nuclear weapons. Today these weapons are militarily obsolete.

And hasn't the time come to lend new momentum to conventional arms control?

We – Europeans, Russians and Americans – have to discuss these issues more intensively!

Secondly, we need to create new confidence by working together to resolve the territorial conflicts in Transnistria, Nagorny Karabakh, Abkhazia and South Ossetia.

Let me be blunt: Unresolved territorial conflicts have no part to play in 21st century Europe. We need to make progress towards resolving these conflicts.

Specifically, that means we need Russia to adopt a constructive approach.

This is especially important when it comes to Georgia. I very much regret that the efforts to extend the OSCE presence there, including in South Ossetia, have failed so far.

It is therefore even more important to make rapid progress in the UN Security Council negotiations on a United Nations presence in Georgia, including Abkhazia.

Two weeks from now, we will discuss pan-European security at a meeting of the OSCE foreign ministers in Corfu. It would be a shame if these talks were overshadowed by the failure of the New York talks on Georgia.

Thirdly, we have to ensure that energy security is an issue that no longer divides us but rather brings us together around one table.

The energy dispute between Russia and Ukraine at the beginning of the year, a dispute which had no winners, is still fresh in our minds. Major doubts about Russia as a reliable energy provider or about Ukraine as a reliable transit country are neither in Russia's nor Ukraine's interest.

However, if we view energy security as a common good, as security for consumers, transit countries and producers, energy relations become a motor for greater cooperation.

This is also the conclusion I draw from President Medvedev's recent proposals, which are still awaiting an answer. I think the EU should respond to these proposals in an open and constructive manner.

My goal is to achieve genuine European and global energy governance that can take preventative action to defuse disputes and escalating conflicts, create investment security and define a binding legal framework – without abandoning the Energy Charter Treaty.

Fourthly, we also need to build confidence in our common neighbourhood by working together closely in a spirit of partnership.

We need to distance ourselves for good from outdated 20th or even 19th century stereotypes. The model of competing “spheres of influence” no longer fits the interconnected, globalized, multipolar world of today.

It is in our common interest to focus our efforts on working towards a better life for people across all of Europe.

It's up to us. If we block each other's efforts in these areas, everyone will lose. If we proceed together, we have much to gain.

Therefore, let us work together to build new confidence.

At the same time I know that confidence cannot simply be ordered, it must be built up over time. This is particularly true in areas that are haunted by the shadows of the past.

The burdensome history of the 20th century lives on in many minds, especially in our common neighbourhood.

I know that Russia's cooperation with Poland, the Baltic states and also with Ukraine is associated with memories of the past that are still painful today. These national memories remain relevant in 21st century Europe.

But politics can also play a role here. We must provide impetus to overcome the division created by national remembrance cultures. As difficult as it is, I believe we have to discuss these memories and experiences with one another, and open them up to each other rather than conserving them in a museum or idealizing them.

One year ago I proposed holding an international conference of historians to mark the 70th anniversary of the Hitler-Stalin Pact and the start of the Second World War.

Two weeks ago the conference took place in Warsaw. And it led to an open discussion on the causes of the Second World War among German, Polish, Russian, Baltic and Ukrainian historians as well as historians from other parts of the world. That, I believe, is an encouraging sign and an exchange that we should continue to cultivate.

We need both to remember what has long divided us and to recognize that we have a shared responsibility to work for peace, democracy and a culture of freedom. Respect for human and civil rights. The pursuit of social justice.

2009 is a year that marks many anniversaries: 80 years since the stock market crash in New York, 70 years since the start of the Second World War, 20 years since the fall of the Berlin Wall. The list could go on and on.

But contrary to what some claimed at the end of the Cold War, we have not reached the end of history.

2009 will also go down in history as a memorable year for mankind. We can be sure of that. What we're not yet sure of is how it will be remembered.

As a year of economic crisis? As a turning point? As a new beginning?

I say, that's up to us! Despite the economic and financial crisis, 2009 can, no – will, mark the start of a new era if we make the right decisions now.

“Financial markets brought under control”. “Breakthrough in disarmament”. “Progress on a pan-European security architecture”. “New level of confidence between East and West”. “Joint success in modernizing our societies” – these are the headings I would like to read in tomorrow's history books.

Let us work together to ensure that they can actually be written!

Thank you very much.

Related content

Top of page