Germany's new parliamentary envoy to Russia, Dirk Wiese, spoke to DW about about his first trip to the country and plans for the future. He says better Berlin-Moscow cooperation can help bring the two countries together.
DW: What do you make of your first visit to Russia?
Dirk Wiese: It was a good first visit to Moscow and St. Petersburg. I had many good talks, gained a lot of new impressions and felt that there was great interest in me and Germany. I was warmly received. So my impressions from this trip are very good, and I can say with certainty that this will not have been my last Russia visit this year.
What were your most important meetings?
My meeting at the Russian foreign ministry of course, and with members of Russian civil society, as well as with representatives of social initiatives. But one of my most important meetings was with Mikhail Fedotov, who advises Russian President Vladimir Putin on human rights and civil society issues. He is my counterpart at the Petersburg Dialogue (a regular German-Russian discussion forum). We had a productive exchange about advancing the Petersburg Dialogue and its civil society working group. In October, Moscow hosts the next Petersburg Dialogue forum.
What are your plans for the future?
I think much will depend on building momentum, which is not easy given the current German-Russian relationship. It will be crucial tying to bring the young generation together. The upcoming German-Russian Cross Year of University and Research Cooperation offers brilliant opportunities for that. We know of more than 1,000 different cooperative university initiatives.
There is another highly interesting opportunity where both countries can come together: In 2019, the New Hanseatic Days will be held in Pskov. And a year later, they will be held in my own town, Brilon. We are looking forward to 14 Russian Hanseatic cities sending representatives there, and it will be an opportunity to bring young people together.
The Russia-Ukraine conflict is driving a wedge between Russia and Germany. What can be done?
The most important thing is to talk, talk, talk, and to try to understand each others' 'arguments. Yes, there are differences of opinion and some points where we definitely disagree, especially when it comes to the annexation of Crimea. But there are also issues where we can make progress. I would like to point out the Iran dossiers as an example, and certain civil society issues. We're currently amid the German-Russian Year or City Partnerships. Large-scale events like these can help our peoples engage in dialogue.
Should the G7 admit Russia again to become the G8?
I think we should first try what [German] Foreign Mister Heiko Maas suggested: to make progress in the Normandy format (mediation talks between Germany, Russia, Ukraine and France) to find answers to resolve the situation in eastern Ukraine, and to revive the Geneva peace talks on Syria. We first need to make progress on these points before possibly returning to previous formats.
Germany's business community opposes EU sanctions against Russia. The current German government's coalition agreement says nothing concrete about sanctions. Chancellor Angela Merkel wants to keep them in place. What do you think?
The coalition agreement is very clear that EU sanctions depend on making progress in the peace processes. Currently, not even the first point of the Minsk protocol — a permanent ceasefire — is being observed. That is why there presently is no possibility for lifting some sanctions. It is crucial to try to use the Normandy format to achieve some momentum.
Dirk Wiese is a member of Germany's Social Democratic Party (SPD) and has held a seat in Germany's parliament, the Bundestag, since 2013. Between 2017 and 2018, he served as a parliamentary deputy minister at the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy. In April 2018, he was appointed Coordinator for Intersocietal Cooperation with Russia, Central Asia and the Eastern Partnership Countries.