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Europe

"She Needs to Reorient the 'Strategic Partnership'"

Angela Merkel travels to Moscow Monday to meet with Vladimir Putin. DW-WORLD spoke with Harald Leibrecht, Free Democrat parliamentarian and member of the foreign affairs committee, about the German-Russian relationship.

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Harald Leibrecht, parliamentarian from the free-market, liberal FDP party

DW-WORLD: Former Chancellor Schröder was one of Russia 's strongest advocates. What do you expect from Chancellor Merkel regarding German-Russian relations? In your opinion, should Angela Merkel address sensitive areas of the relationship more than Gerhard Schröder did?

Harald Leibrecht: On the latter question, you will get an unqualified "yes" from me. Ms. Merkel most definitely has to address these topics. Above all, she needs to reorient the "strategic partnership" with Russia, away from the "buddy" model à la Kohl and Schröder, and toward an open dialog, one which allows criticism.

For me, "partnership" means the connection of two partners in a special way. This "special connection" between Russia and Germany is there due to many reasons: common interests, and especially economic interests, although not exclusively so. There are security issues, such as the war against terrorism and the non-proliferation of weapons on mass destruction, where Germany and Russia are headed in the same direction.

In a real partnership it has to be possible to discuss the existing differences and problems. These differences will Russia I think are primarily in the areas of the understanding of democracy and the rule of law.

What do you think about Chancellor Merkel's describing the relationship to the US, because of the two countries' shared values, as a "friendship" and calling the relationship to Russia a "strategic partnership" due to shared economic interests?

Our connection to the US is a deeply rooted, decades-long friendship. Shared values and a commitment to democracy in a free society are the firm foundations of our friendship. That kind of a friendship with Russia has yet to form. In any case, it will not ever be a friendship such as the one the GDR and the Soviet Union had, which was "decreed from above" by both governments.

Friendship can only be built on the basis of common interests and values and if both parties want it. As soon as all the Russian government's talk about freedom and democracy becomes more than just lip service, than the door to a real friendship will be open.

The row between Russia and Ukraine over natural gas has made the question of the reliability of European and German energy supplies and the dependence on Russian energy clearer than ever.

It is always problematic, to concentrate solely on one partner. That can quickly turn into dependence. The Russian example shows how important it is to have a wide-ranging energy mix in Germany, comprising fossil fuels, renewables and also nuclear energy.

The federal government needs to do everything possible to reduce this energy dependence, thereby guaranteeing the reliability of supplies while increasing efficiency and reducing subsidies.

How do you and the FDP, now the largest opposition group in parliament, the future of German-Russia relations? What would an FDP foreign minister in a coalition with the conservatives do differently?

German-Russia relations are for both me and the FDP very important. Russia is not only an important economic partner, but has an effect of global politics that cannot be underestimated. It's important for the partnership with Russia to be put on a foundation that is stable in the long term, not one which depends on personal relationships, but which is based on common interests and values; it's not enough that the two heads of state get along famously.

There must be much more exchange and a willingness to learn from one another, on different levels of society, particularly on the level of civil society. There are many things that connect Russia and Germany. These connections must be reactivated and expanded.

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