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In Moscow, Germany's Steinmeier Calls for 'Community Of Responsibility'

  • Bernd Volkert

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (left) and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier open talks.

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev (left) and German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier open talks.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier was in Moscow for a working visit that included talks with Russian President Dmitry Medvedev and Prime Minister Vladimir Putin, as well as his counterpart, Sergei Lavrov.

During his visit to the Russian capital, Steinmeier stressed the issues of nuclear disarmament and international security -- first in a speech at the Russian Academy of Sciences, and later in talks with Medvedev at his guest house.

The meeting with Medvedev was added to Steinmeier's agenda only shortly before his departure. The talks appeared to focus on economic issues, with Medvedev afterward calling for improved trade and bilateral ties.

"Trade between our two countries has contracted significantly recently. This is, of course, a direct consequence of the crisis and is not caused by any political manipulations," Medvedev said.

"We do want to trade and we do want to develop bilateral relations [with Germany]."

Afterward, the German foreign minister met for talks with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, for what was advertised as an "extensive exchange of views."

From there, Steinmeier went on to another last-minute meeting -- this time with Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. The two officials attended the opening of a pediatric oncology center, the product of a German-Russia "modernization partnership" launched last year.

Stefan Meister, a Russia expert with the German Council on Foreign Relations, said ahead of the trip that it is motivated in part by German domestic political concerns ahead of parliamentary elections in September

Meister described it as ''an attempt to give some momentum before the elections in certain areas by visiting such an important partner, such an important country."

However, he noted that the recent European Parliament elections have shown that Steinmeier and his Social Democrats "are very weak. And the Russians are aware that Steinmeier may not be there any longer by autumn. Seen in this light, I don't know if these meetings will be very productive.''

Groundwork For Cooperation

Steinmeier had hoped during his trip to capitalize on what the German Foreign Ministry called the "positive momentum of this time" to achieve concrete progress on disarmament and arms control.

Ministry spokesman Andreas Peschke said talks on the issue will include a discussion of Iran's nuclear program.

The foreign minister was also aiming to increase German investments in Russia and improving economic and technical cooperation.

Finally, talks will focus on preparations for several international events upcoming later this month. These include the meeting of the foreign ministers of the Group of Eight (G8) leading industrialized countries in Trieste, Italy on June 25-27, an informal meeting of the OSCE's foreign ministers in Corfu on June 27-28, and a meeting of the NATO-Russia Council, also scheduled for the end of June.

Steinmeier also addressed foreign-policy issues and the German-Russian relationship in a speech before the Russian Academy of Sciences this morning. He called on Germany, the European Union, and Russia to build "a community of responsibility" for peace and stability in Europe.

In this context, Steinmeier called on Russia to maintain a "constructive attitude" on issues of potential controversy, including relations with Georgia, as well as the breakaway regions of Transdniester, Nagorno-Karabakh, Abkhazia, and South Ossetia.

Citing the recent election of Barack Obama to the U.S. presidency, Steinmeier said that "the ghost of a new Cold War has been expelled," and called on all nations to "work together for a new partnership of security and stability from Vancouver to Vladivostok and beyond."

Steinmeier described the goal of a world without nuclear weapons as realistic, and "not a playground for utopians." He also described Medvedev as "just as ambitious as his American counterpart" on the issue of disarmament.

Economy Ahead Of Human Rights

In a visit to the editorial offices of the newspaper "Novaya gazeta" -- one of the few remaining independent news outlets in Russia -- the German foreign minister touched on issues related to Russian civil society.

"Of course, Mr. Steinmeier went to Anna Politkovskaya's office, signed the guest book, and expressed to the newspaper his condolences about the deaths of our journalists, which is completely understandable for those European politicians who are committed to law rather than to accomplishing things at any price," Dmitry Muratov, the paper's editor, told RFE/RL's Russian Service.

It's unclear whether Steinmeier raised such issues during his meetings with Putin, Medvedev, and Lavrov.

Ahead of the trip, the German Foreign Ministry refused to confirm that Steinmeier would use his private talks with Russian officials to address issues like the new trial of former Yukos chief Mikhail Khodorkovsky and recent fatal attacks on journalists.

Meister of the German Council on Foreign Relations said he expected human rights issues would not figure high on Steinmeier's list of priorities for his visit, which Meister said would be dominated by economic and energy concerns:

"The way this schedule has been worked out, one can assume that the meetings with Medvedev and Putin will be about other issues, namely modernization projects and German-Russian cooperation, especially in the economic sector, and certainly the financial crisis," Meister said.

Meister said there is no meeting planned between Steinmeier and representatives from Russia's Sberbank or GAZ automaker, the winners of the recent bid for Germany's Opel car company.

But he said Germany has a special commitment to Russia in the economic field. Meister says that "representatives of the German economy -- at least the big companies -- have stated very clearly that they want to stay in Russia.

"They intend, so to speak, to get through the crisis together with Russia."Frank-Walter Steinmeier has seen his Moscow agenda upgraded.

RFE/RL's Russian Service contributed to this story