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Germany's Steinmeier Tells Putin Improving Relations 'Essential'


German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier (left) and Russian President Vladimir Putin at the Kremlin on October 25.

German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has voiced hope that his current visit to Russia will help improve strained ties between Berlin and Moscow.

Steinmeier, a two-time former foreign minister, told Russian President Vladimir Putin he was unhappy with the state of bilateral relations and that both sides needed to work to improve it.

Steinmeier's visit to Moscow, the first by a German president since 2010, took place amid strained relations over Russia's 2014 annexation of Ukraine's Crimea region and its backing of a separatist uprising in eastern Ukraine which has killed more than 10,000 people since April 2014.

"We both believe that the current state of affairs cannot satisfy us and should not satisfy us," Steinmeier said following talks with Putin.

"We are far from [having] normal ties, open wounds are still out there, there are unresolved issues, first and foremost it concerns the takeover of Crimea and the conflict in eastern Ukraine, which are a burden and continue to be a burden for our ties," Steinmeier added.

Putin said Moscow was ready to advance its relations with Berlin, adding that German businesses were looking to expand their presence in Russia.

"Despite some certain political difficulties, Russian-German ties are not at a standstill," Putin said.

Before the meeting, the Kremlin had said Putin and Steinmeier planned “to discuss the current state of Russian-German relations and the prospects for their development" as well as discussing "pressing global issues."

Steinmeier, who is the ceremonial German head of state and holds little real power, earlier in the day held talks with former Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev and representatives of Memorial, a widely respected human rights group.

The United States, other Western countries, and the European Union have imposed sanctions on Russia over its seizure of Crimea and its backing of separatists in eastern Ukraine.

Several cease-fire deals announced as part of the Minsk accords signed in September 2014 and February 2015 to resolve the conflict have failed to hold.

Steinmeier has long called for increased engagement with Moscow, and his Social Democrat Party wants a gradual easing of EU sanctions imposed on Moscow for its role in Ukraine.

The Social Democrats will go into opposition after being in a coalition government with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives for the past four years.

The German president also attended a ceremony for the return of ownership of Moscow’s St. Peter and Paul Cathedral to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Russia.

The cathedral was seized by the Soviet state in 1938.

Steinmeier praised the handover, saying he hoped the church would continue to serve as a place for Orthodox and Lutheran Christians to further their encounters. Germany has a large Lutheran population, while Russia has a majority Orthodox population.

As foreign minister, Steinmeier pressed the authorities to accelerate the handover, and his visit to Moscow was timed so he could attend the ceremony.

With reporting by dpa, AP, AFP, and TASS
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