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We should take Putin at his word”

12.11.2012 - Interview

In the run up to the German-Russian intergovernmental consultations, Federal Foreign Minister Westerwelle stressed the fact that an open and broad-based partnership between Europe and Russia continued to be necessary. However, this did not mean that no criticism could be voiced, he went on to say. In an article published in the daily Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung he came out in favour of an open dialogue and greater exchange (12 November 2012).

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Only a few weeks ago, the exhibition “Russians and Germans. 1000 Years of Art, History and Culture” was opened in the Neues Museum in Berlin. It tells the checkered story of German-Russians relations – a story marked by fascination and attraction, by rivalry and exchange, by war and peace.

The exhibition highlighted once again a characteristic aspect of German-Russian history and its ups and downs: Our continent has only prospered in peace when Europeans and Russians have reached out to each other.

This is still true today. Europe, Germany and Russia are committed in partnership. Never before have our economies and societies been so closely intertwined. Never before has there been such a dense political exchange between Europe and Russia, between Germany and Russia. To my mind, what matters most is that none of this is happening without showing consideration for the interest of our Polish and Baltic neighbours.

After more than three generations of Soviet tyranny, Russia’s citizens have experienced more prosperity in the last twenty years than ever before in the history of their great country. A new, outward-looking middle class has emerged, not just in the metropolises Moscow and St Petersburg. The modern world economy and the globalization of mindsets have not stopped at Russia’s borders.

This is fertile ground for cooperation. Moreover, exchange and cooperation make perfect political sense: The challenges of our time cannot be tackled without Russia, let alone against its will. They can only be met together with this great nation.

We therefore cooperate closely on the major issues on the international agenda: Within the E3+3 group, we are pulling together in order to prevent Iran from getting its hands on a nuclear bomb. In Afghanistan, with regard to North Korea and now also in Mali, we share the same goals, i.e. the joint fight against international terrorism, as well as the non-proliferation of nuclear weapons. We may not always be of one mind, but we talk to each other, and we have put in place the necessary bilateral and multilateral dialogue fora.

On the issue of Syria, we have pursued different approaches from day one in dealing with the regime in Damascus. We continue to be firmly convinced that the Security Council needs to finally act on this serious crisis. Moscow bears special responsibility in this respect. Despite our different views, our dialogue with Moscow on this issue has never stopped. And it continues to be important that we talk to each other on such controversial issues instead of remaining silent.

Moreover, recent domestic developments in Russia give us cause for concern. Criminal justice and freedom of the arts, the handling of the political opposition and civil society, freedom of the press and of opinion, the right to assemble freely: On all those issues we have differences of opinion which we do not shy away from – neither in public nor behind the scenes.

President Putin has time and again stressed Russia’s European outlook. We should take him at his word. Peace, freedom and prosperity are rooted in our European values, that is, in democracy, the rule of law, the social market economy and a vibrant civil society. Russian philosophy and Russian literature show us that Russia is by no means a stranger to these categories.

I hope our shared European values will form the basis for Russia’s future development. Freedom of artistic expression, a political opposition and a critical public will not harm Russia’s development. On the contrary: They could make the country both more stable and stronger. They are part of a partnership geared to the modernization of the economy, society and the judiciary, which has become even more necessary in the face of globalization.

An open, broad-based European-Russian partnership involving the economy and civil society remains the right political course for us. But partnership does not mean foregoing criticism. We will follow very closely what direction Russia’s development takes in the coming months and years. We see ourselves as an open-minded friend and strategic partner. This is the spirit in which we will approach the German-Russian intergovernmental consultations coming up in a few days.

Our perspective on the strategic opportunities for cooperation with Russia is not in conflict with the concept of an open and sometimes critical dialogue. More, not less openness and exchange should be the order of the day. This may be a thorny path at times, but it is the right one.

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