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Russia, Germany Highlight Shared Interest, Despite Frictions

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (right) meets with his German counterpart, Heiko Maas, in Moscow on August 11.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (right) meets with his German counterpart, Heiko Maas, in Moscow on August 11.

Germany's Foreign Minister Heiko Maas and his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, have emphasized their nations' shared interests despite lingering frictions.

During a visit to Moscow on August 11 to discuss wide-ranging issues, Maas reaffirmed Berlin's interest in the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline intended to carry Russian natural gas to Germany under the Baltic Sea.

The pipeline, under construction in the Baltic Sea, would double Russia's direct natural gas exports to Germany while bypassing Ukraine, which stands to lose billions of dollars in gas transit fees.

The United States has long opposed Nord Stream 2, which has increasingly become a source of friction between Berlin and Washington. The United States argues the project will endanger European security by making Germany overly dependent on Russian gas.

The United States already has imposed sanctions aimed at companies working on the project, saying the pipeline will increase the European Union's dependence on Russia for natural gas.

German officials have condemned the U.S. sanctions, and some critics argue that behind U.S. opposition to the pipeline project is its own desire to sell its liquefied natural gas to Europe.

Maas noted the importance of Germany's strong ties with Washington, but criticized the U.S. approach as inappropriate.

“This [transatlantic relationship] goes deeper than just day-to-day developments, yet we must make it very clear that sanctions between partners are definitely the wrong way, and ultimately it remains our sovereign decision where we get our energy from,” he said.

"No state has the right to dictate Europe’s energy policy with threats, and this also will not work.”

Last week, Maas voice discontent over the threat of further U.S. sanctions against the project in a phone call with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

Lavrov said that the pipeline stands to be completed this year despite U.S. efforts to derail the project.

Maas emphasized Russia's global role but also the irritants that have strained relations between the two countries.

Maas described Russia as an essential partner in resolving “the many conflicts and crises in the world.”

But Maas said the two countries must also be able to discuss issues that directly involve them both, such as charges brought in Germany against a Russian accused of killing a Georgian man in Berlin a year ago and the accusations leveled at another Russian over his alleged role in the hacking of the German parliament.

"It is important that we communicate well bilaterally,” Maas said after the talks.

“Wherever needed, it’s important that we talk openly. That’s how we did it in the past as well,” he said.

German prosecutors have filed murder charges against the Russian man accused of killing Zelimkhan Khangoshvili, a Georgian citizen of Chechen ethnicity who fought against Russian troops in Chechnya. The prosecutors said the suspect had acted on orders from the Russian authorities.

Khangoshvili was shot dead in Berlin in August last year.

The case prompted Germany to expel two Russian diplomats in December, citing a lack of cooperation with the investigation. Moscow denied involvement and insisted it has remained ready to cooperate.

In the 2015 parliament hacking incident, German prosecutors have issued a warrant for Dmitry Badin, who is allegedly an officer with Russia’s GRU military intelligence agency.

Badin was already being sought by U.S. authorities and is believed to be part of the hacker group known as APT28, or Fancy Bear.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has cited “hard evidence” that correspondence from her parliamentary office was among the documents targeted in the attack.

“We don’t have any interest that the German-Russian relations hit rocky waters -- that’s not where we want to have it,” Maas said on August 11, but added, “Germany will protect the security of the people online and offline without compromises.”

Russia has rejected Germany’s allegations over Moscow's involvement in the attack as "absurd” and “unfounded.”

With reporting by AP and dpa
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