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Germany's Gabriel discusses Syria and EU sanctions with Russia's Putin

Germany's Vice Chancellor has met with Russian President Vladimir Putin amidst tensions over the crisis in Syria. Gabriel wants to build bridges between Germany and Russia, despite controversy over his visit back home.

Sigmar Gabriel, Germany's Vice Chancellor, kicked off his two-day state visit with Russia's President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday by discussing the dire state of the Syrian conflict.

"Somehow it is my destiny to come here in difficult times," said Gabriel at the start of Wednesday's meeting near Moscow.

"Especially in the last few days, the attack on the aid convoy is the worst thing I could have ever imagined," he added. The attack killed over 20 people and contributed to the disintegration of a ceasefire brokered by the United States and Russia.

At the start of the talks, Putin remarked on the disappointing trade situation between Germany and Russia. Trade between the two nations fell by 13.7 percent in the first half of this year.

"We must find solutions to all difficult questions," said Putin, adding that Germany remains one of Russia's most important economic partners.

Strained relations

The main purpose of Gabriel's visit to Moscow focuses on increasing bilateral trade between Russia and Germany. He has traveled with a contingent of German industry delegates and will hold talks with other industry representatives in Russia.

Russia has been stuck in a recession made worse by sanctions imposed by the European Union in the wake of Russia's annexation of Ukraine's Crimean peninsula.

Gabriel, a member of the Social Democrats (SPD) and also the Economic Affairs Minister, has taken a more conciliatory stance towards Moscow, sparking tensions within Germany's Grand Coalition government. He plans to discuss possibly easing EU sanctions with Putin during the high-level talks.

The SPD's conservative coalition partners, Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative Christian Democrats (CDU) and the Bavarian sister-party the Christian Social Union (CSU), criticized Gabriel's remarks. Merkel has insisted that Russia must do more to help the fragile Ukraine peace process.

However, business leaders in Germany who are eager to resume trade with Russian partners view Gabriel positively.

Gabriel urged prior to his trip to Moscow that "isolation and confrontation offer no prospects and are not a sensible policy."

rs/kl (dpa, Reuters)

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