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Germany's Steinmeier Says No 'Standoff' In Relations With Russia

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (left) and German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier at a meeting in Munich earlier this year.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (left) and German counterpart Frank-Walter Steinmeier at a meeting in Munich earlier this year.

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier said there is no "standoff" in relations between Russia and the West, predicting improved relations between Moscow and Berlin in the coming years.

Speaking at a university in the Russian city of Yekaterinburg ahead of talks with his Russian counterpart, Sergei Lavrov, Steinmeier said there are still opportunities to end the conflict in eastern Ukraine and that the Minsk peace process should remain the focus of such efforts.

He also urged Russia and the West to take advantage of "the opportunities of the Russia-NATO Council" in easing tensions during "particularly difficult times."

Steinmeier’s remarks came one day after Lavrov told journalists that Russia was not to blame for strained relations with Berlin.

"We are paying top-priority attention to relations with Germany and it is not our fault that they are enduring a difficult period," Lavrov said at a meeting on August 14 with the governor of Russia's Sverdlovsk region in its capital, Yekaterinburg.

Lavrov and Steinmeier were scheduled to meet there on August 15 for an energy-related event.

Before the meeting, Sergei Lavrov urged progress on the Nord Stream 2 natural-gas pipeline project, saying it "fits into the program of developing the gas infrastructure that exists in the EU."

Earlier this month, Russia's Gazprom and its European partners withdrew their application for merger approval in Poland after regulators expressed opposition to a planned amalgamation that could restrict competition.

Gazprom, Anglo-Dutch group Shell, Austrian OMV, and German Uniper and Wintershall plan to build a pipeline from Russia under the Baltic Sea that would bypass Ukraine and deliver natural gas directly to Germany.

The companies said on August 13 that the project remains alive despite the application withdrawal.

While in Yekaterinburg, Lavrov and Steinmeier are expected to hold talks focusing on issues including the conflicts in Syria and Ukraine.

Russia's seizure of Crimea and support for separatists in a war that has killed more than 9,500 people in eastern Ukraine have badly damaged Moscow's ties with the European Union.

The position of EU powerhouse Germany has been crucial to maintaining sanctions against Russia over its interference in Ukraine in place.

Tension over Crimea increased last week when Russia accused Ukraine of trying to send "saboteurs" into the annexed peninsula to carry out attacks. Ukraine calls the allegations preposterous.

Western countries say they see little evidence supporting Russia's accusations, which some analysts believe were a move by Moscow to gain the upper hand in geopolitical maneuvering over efforts to end the war in eastern Ukraine.

Germany helped broker a February 2015 cease-fire and political settlement deal that has fallen far short of full implementation.

The two leaders are also expected to discuss the crisis in Syria.

Steinmeier told a German paper on August 13 that humanitarian aid is desperately needed in the besieged Syrian city of Aleppo and that it may be necessary to start an "air bridge" to bring it in.

In an interview with the Welt am Sonntag newspaper, Steinmeier said that Germany was in talks with the United States, Russia, and the United Nations to try and organize "urgent humanitarian assistance" to the northern Syrian city.

Despite calls for a cease-fire and Russia's promise of a three-hour daily respite from air strikes to allow in humanitarian aid, there has been no letup in the violence.

With reporting by TASS and Reuters
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