German Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier's Moscow talks should be seen in a broader international context. In a best-case scenario, they may give some new impetus to resuming a meaningful political dialogue between Russia and the West.
German Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier, right, during his meeting with the Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Photo: TASS / Mikhail Metzel
Obviously, German-Russian relations are in a difficult state these days. There are significant differences over a number of key issues, beginning with the sanctions that the EU has imposed on Russia and ending with the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine.
However, Russia and Germany are interested in decreasing these areas of disagreement. Both of them are trying to identify areas of mutual interest where the proven cooperation of foregone days could be preserved or restored, as indicated by German Foreign Minister Frank Walter Steinmeier's Mar. 23 visit to Moscow.
This visit took place in the framework of ongoing regular bilateral contacts between the two countries. But there was one factor that gave additional weight to Steinmeier's visit: this time he came also in his capacity as the chairman of the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). His hosts were visibly aware of this fact and, besides talks with his counterpart Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, arranged meetings with President Vladimir Putin and Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev.
It could hardly be expected that Steinmeier's one-time visit would achieve an overall breakthrough on the set of complicated issues that currently burden the official relations between Germany and Russia.
One has to keep in mind that many of the problems on the Russian-German agenda are less of a bilateral nature than due to common positions articulated by the EU or NATO. Clearly, Germany has accepted to share these positions; however, the situation is still developing and may require an adaptation to the current positions.
This concerns Syria where a peace effort is under way with Russia trying to appear in a constructive role. The same applies to Ukraine where a ceasefire, despite numerous violations, is still in force. Both participants in the Moscow talks gave a signal, which amounts to a unity of purpose: They supported ongoing peace initiatives and issued an appeal to move further ahead.
It cannot be ignored that the settlement effort on the Ukraine conflict, based on the Minsk agreements, is in a delicate state. In close coordination with its Western partners, Germany has agreed to take over a leading role in this effort including opening up ways that would finally allow the lifting of sanctions.
Steinmeier would hardly have missed the occasion to make it clear to his Russian counterparts that any failure in the sense of a renewed broad-scale military confrontation is bound to have also adverse effects on the bilateral relations between Germany and Russia. It would equally mean a disaster for the OSCE in its role as a mediator and, as a direct consequence, for Germany as the current OSCE chair.
So Steinmeier's high-level meetings in Moscow covered a range of issues from a complicated international agenda. At the same time, all of these matters remain closely interconnected with German-Russian bilateral relations.
Both sides were certainly aware of this when they discussed business in classic bilateral terms. What is at stake here is the volume of German-Russian economic, scientific and cultural cooperation, which, due to the sanctions, has suffered serious setbacks.
So, both sides are interested to preserve as much of this cooperation as feasible under prevailing circumstances. In this regard, intensifying youth exchanges and extending exchanges in the field of university researchers were mentioned as two possible areas of further development.
But Steinmeier's Moscow talks have a relevance that transcends such bilateral aspects. They must be seen in a broader international context. At best, they may give some new impetus to resuming a meaningful political dialogue between the West and Moscow on key issues like Ukraine and Syria.
This would touch on a dimension where the EU, the U.S. as well as the OSCE are substantially involved. Unless such a broader dialogue is re-initiated, there is little hope that the current deadlock can be overcome.
The opinion of the author may not necessarily reflect the position of Russia Direct or its staff.