Merkel’s tougher Russia stance meets resistance in Germany
GERMANY’S Europe minister called yesterday for a new policy of easing tensions with Russia, adding to a chorus of voices pressing Chancellor Angela Merkel to moderate her hardened stance towards the Kremlin.
The conservative chancellor swung behind Britain after the poison attack on a former Russian double agent in England last month, expelling four diplomats despite uneasiness among a political class that is wary of confrontation with Germany’s giant eastern neighbor.
Europe Minister Michael Roth, a member of the Social Democrat party (SPD), said that while the European Union needed a united front on Russia, sanctions should aim to bring Moscow to the negotiating table.
“Anti-russian reflexes are just as dangerous as naively... remaining silent over the nationalist-tinged policies of the current Russian leadership,” he wrote in Die Weltnewspaper.
Many Western countries are pushing for a more assertive stance against Moscow over President Vladimir Putin’s backing for Syrian President Bashar al-assad, accused of using chemical weapons in the country’s civil war.
With extensive business and energy links to Russia, Germany has been cautious in its relations with Moscow, though Merkel’s tone has hardened over the four years since Russia’s annexation of Ukraine’s Crimean peninsula.
Roth, whose party is junior partner in Merkel’s coalition, echoed comments from President FrankWalter Steinmeier - a fellow Social Democrat - that “too much is at stake” for Germany to cast Russia as an enemy.
Opinion in the coalition is not necessarily divided along party lines. Foreign Minister Heiko Maas, also a Social Democrat, has appeared to shift away from a conciliatory approach to Moscow while Alexander Dobrindt, a lawmaker for Merkel’s Bavarian sister party, has questioned the effectiveness of the sanctions against Russia.