Skip to comments.German foreign minister tries new tone to court Russia
Posted on 02/18/2014 6:29:31 AM PST by cunning_fish
MOSCOW (Reuters) - While others in Europe debate how best to contain Vladimir Putin, Germany's foreign minister is on a mission to revive damaged ties with Moscow with a combination of public flattery and behind-the-scenes diplomacy.
Frank-Walter Steinmeier's Social Democrats (SPD), junior partner in Chancellor Angela Merkel's new coalition, enjoy better chemistry with Russia's leaders than her previous center-right government and he hopes this can open channels on Syria and Ukraine and help Brussels and Moscow to see eye-to-eye.
But Germany may be overestimating the leverage its trade ties give it over Russia and risks appearing naive if it mutes criticism of Putin without influencing his policies in return.
Relations between Russia and the European Union have been strained to the limit by Moscow's support for Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and mutual accusations of meddling in Ukraine. President Putin's crackdown on dissent at home has dismayed the West, once hopeful of democratic change in Russia.
European leaders stayed away in droves from the opening of the Winter Olympics in the Russian Black Sea city of Sochi this month and Brussels cancelled a dinner with Putin at a January summit to express its anger at the tug-of-war over Ukraine.
In this context, Steinmeier - an old friend of Moscow - has picked a risky path by making overtures to Putin.
"Nothing is possible without Russia," was Steinmeier's message during a two-day trip to Moscow last week. The other message was that Berlin wanted to set a "positive agenda" with Russia rather than just bashing it for rights abuses.
Since returning in December to a post he held in Merkel's first 'grand coalition' with the SPD from 2005-2009, Steinmeier has pledged a more muscular foreign and security policy - and Merkel has delegated the tricky matter of Russia to the SPD.
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yes, but did he offer them a big red prop button that says “Overcharged” in Russian?