German–Russian relations are undergoing hard times, with no clear prospect of advancement or significant change in the next three or four years in the foreign policy realm. Both Russia and Germany are to blame for this.
On April 4, RIA Novosti hosted a video conference “Russia-Germany: Economic agenda during the Eurocrisis,” timed to coincide with President Vladimir Putin’s visit to Germany on April 7-8. It was attended by Hans-Henning Schröder, expert of the Valdai Club and the Science and Politics Foundation, Head of the Russia/CIS Division at the German Institute for International and Security Affairs, and Professor of East European History at Bremen University.
Hans-Henning Schröder believes that German–Russian relations are undergoing hard times, with no clear prospect of advancement or significant change in the next three or four years in the foreign policy realm. In his opinion, both Russia and Germany are to blame for this. Schröder does not think that talks between Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel will produce any meaningful changes. Moreover, elections in Germany are not far off and new guidelines will be established by the new German government.
Recent domestic political developments in Russia are causing alarm in German society, reducing the willingness of German politicians to meet Moscow halfway. What happened with two German funds in Moscow has only made it worse. But the two countries can overcome these difficulties.
There are other areas in which they can make progress, such as tourism, scientific and cultural cooperation, and individual projects between German and Russian cities. Russia and Germany can develop and expand cooperation in these areas, but this will require the desire and political will.
Economic cooperation is a separate issue. Participation in the Hannover Messe will be a major part of Putin’s visit. Russia will be represented there as Germany’s main partner. Schroeder predicts that the Hannover Messe may produce many results because it will be attended by leading Russian companies and experts and will display more than a thousand Russian items. Potential investors are bound to be interested in this.
Schröder made special mention of the investment climate in Russia, which is not considered good in Germany and the rest of the world. It will be important to see what Russian leaders and entrepreneurs will do to improve it. The professor believes that the rise of the Russian middle class can play a major role in improving the investment climate and creating favorable business conditions and opportunities. Last but not the least, tough anti-corruption measures are essential for boosting Russia’s investment appeal and modernization.
Commenting on Russia’s accession to the World Trade Organization (WTO), Schröder said that Germany welcomes Russia’s membership. Of course, many technical issues still have to be resolved, but on the whole this is a big step forward for Russia and a positive trend in its advancement, and in the development of German-Russian relations as well.
Speaking about relations with the European Union, Schröder made clear that he does not share the widespread view that Russia does not see the EU as an independent and fully-fledged negotiating partner and prefers to discuss urgent issues directly with European capitals – Paris, Berlin and others. Bilateral talks are important, but Schröder thinks that Russia takes a very realistic approach to the EU.
It is impossible to avoid grievances and dissatisfaction in bilateral relations. According to Schröder, the decision of European finance ministers on Cyprus met a negative response in Russia. This is only natural – as one of the biggest financial players in Cyprus, Russia hoped that its voice would be heard. Schröder thinks that in any event Brussels is an extremely important player for Moscow both in politics and the economy.