Pressure from Moscow Chill Settles over German-Russian Relations

Germany has fallen out of favor with the Kremlin, which has ramped up pressure on German institutions in Russia. But while Chancellor Angela Merkel disapproves of President Vladimir Putin's authoritarian presidency, she has no desire to burn bridges with the country.

Putin visited Merkel in Germany last week, and things between the leaders were reportedly tense.
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Putin visited Merkel in Germany last week, and things between the leaders were reportedly tense.

A number of years ago, Russian President Vladimir Putin instructed the counterintelligence department of Russia's main domestic security agency, the FSB, to scale back its activities regarding German offices and institutions. However, this remit no longer seems to apply, with Putin taking an increasingly combative stance toward Germany.

An ice age appears to be dawning within German-Russian relations in more ways than one. According to information obtained by SPIEGEL, last week the FSB pressured staff at the German embassy in Moscow to hand over information.

Then, a delegation of Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democratic parliamentarians visiting Moscow last week met with one canceled appointment after another. The same week, a pro-Kremlin mass-circulation newspaper published pictures that supposedly showed the German Chancellor naked. Russian state television, meanwhile, compared the mandatory bank deposit levy in Cyprus, which Merkel backed, with the expropriation of Jews during the Nazi era.

A Frosty Visit

Further fanning the flames of simmering tensions, Alexei Pushkov, head of the foreign committee in the Russian parliament's lower house, the State Duma, accused Germany of playing down Hitler's invasion of the Soviet Union in the popular World War II miniseries "Our Mothers, Our Fathers" ("Unsere Mütter, unsere Väter"), that aired on German TV in late March, saying that it marked "a further attempt to rewrite history."

The word in Berlin is that relations with Moscow had already reached a low point when tax authorities confiscated computers in late March from the St. Petersburg offices of the Konrad Adenauer Foundation, a political think tank aligned with Merkel's Christian Democrats.

But even though Merkel has not hidden her disappointment at recent political and social developments in Russia, government insiders say that she has no desire to burn bridges either. Nonetheless, when German Chancellor hosted a two-and-a half hour dinner with Putin during his visit to the Hanover Trade Fair last week, the mood was reportedly quite frosty.


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ViewFromLondon 04/16/2013
1. Russo-German relations
In the 18th century Russia benefited from the expertise of a large colony of German immigrants. Following the retirement of Putin, Germany may restore the good relations that could lead to mutually-beneficial trading links. As then, Russia lacks technical and engineering know-how, while Germany needs raw materials and new markets for its manufactured goods. Russia's best chance of the development it needs to grow stable economic and political structures will come through partnership with Germany and a non-exploitative relationship.
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