German president laments ‘open wounds’ in ties with Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) welcomes German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier.
Russian President Vladimir Putin (right) welcomes German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier. PHOTO: AFP

MOSCOW (REUTERS) - German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier told Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday (Oct 25) he was unhappy about the state of relations between Moscow and Berlin and that both sides needed to work to improve it.

The first visit to Russia by a German president since 2010 occurred with relations still strained over Russia's 2014 annexation of Crimea and a pro-Russian separatist uprising in eastern Ukraine, as well as German accusations of Russian meddling in its politics, something Moscow denies.

"It's essential that we use this opportunity for us as presidents to continue our dialogue to try to improve our bilateral relations, the state of which we can't be happy about," Steinmeier told Putin at the start of talks.

"I'm convinced that we need to resist the alienation that has grown up between our countries in recent years and to do what we need to continue the dialogue and need long-term attempts from both sides to find solutions in crises."

Speaking after the talks, Putin said he had agreed with Steinmeier that political problems should not prevent the two countries from improving their ties.

"Despite the known political difficulties, Russian-German relations are not standing still and we are ready to work together to develop them further," he said.

Steinmeier said there was still work to be done.

"We are far from having normal relations... There are open wounds still," he said, speaking at a news conference alongside Putin.

Steinmeier, a Social Democrat who previously served as foreign minister, has long called for increased engagement with Moscow.

His party, which will soon go into opposition after four years in a coalition government with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservatives, wants a gradual easing of EU sanctions imposed on Moscow for its role in Ukraine.

Steinmeier has also launched a disarmament initiative he hopes will spur Russia and the United States to embark on talks about reducing their conventional arsenals.

Merkel, who has resisted moves to ease sanctions on Russia, is now trying to forge a three-way alliance with the pro-business Free Democrats and the environmental Greens.

A new Russia policy is unlikely to take shape until Germany's coalition negotiations begin in late November, but the Greens have generally backed a hard line against Moscow for its annexation of Crimea and backing for the Syrian government.