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Germany's Heiko Maas urges Russia to change its ways

April 16, 2018

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas has said he is hopeful the US-led airstrikes on Syria will convince Russia to open dialogue with the West. Maas also blamed Russia for a recent cyber attack on his ministry.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/BELGA/N. Maeterlinck

Germany's top diplomat Heiko Maas on Sunday urged Russia to adopt a more constructive approach to the conflict in Syria and several other problem areas.

Speaking to German broadcasters ARD and ZDF, Maas accused Russia of having become a difficult partner and listed a series of unwelcome actions it had perpetrated beyond its borders. He also admitted for the first time that a recent cyber attack on Germany's foreign ministry had likely stemmed from Moscow.

However, Maas indicated that he remained hopeful over future relations, saying this week's US-led airstrikes over Syria could convince Russia to take up the political process once again, both in the Middle East and elsewhere.

Maas: 'We will keep up the political pressure on Russia'

Read more: Is it time for Germany to revisit its Russia relationship?

On Syria

Maas told ARD that the West's airstrikes on Damascus on Saturday had hopefully opened a "window for dialogue" with Russia, the Syrian government's main backer in its seven-year civil war against rebel forces.

The fact that Syria and its backers had refrained from escalating the conflict following Saturday's airstrikes on Damascus was an encouraging indication that "something must have changed," Maas said. "We don't just have the opportunity but the necessity to take up the political process again," he added

Read more: Airstrikes in Syria: What you need to know

Germany didn't join the US, Britain and France in Saturday's strikes, although Chancellor Angela Merkel was quick to describe the attack as "necessary and appropriate."

EU foreign ministers are due to meet in Brussels on Monday to discuss what further action could be taken in relation to Syria.

German Foreign Ministry cyber attack

Earlier on Sunday, in an interview with broadcaster ZDF, Maas said for the first time that the German government had to assume a cyber attack on the foreign ministry was orchestrated in Russia.

"We had an attack on the Foreign Ministry where we have to assume that it stemmed from Russia," Maas said. "We can not just wish all that away."

Berlin admitted in February that it had been the victim of an "isolated" cyber attack targeting a government computer network. The malware is believed to have remained in the government's networks for as long as a year before the government discovered the breach in December.

Maas' remarks echoed those from Germany's domestic intelligence chief, who last week said there was a "high likelihood" Russia was behind the attack.

Read more: Hack of German Foreign Ministry part of 'everyday spying'

Dobrokhotov, expert, on Russia's alleged hacking

Maas: a Russian hardliner?

Maas also criticized Russia for a lack of progress toward a ceasefire in eastern Ukraine, for the poison attack on ex-spy Sergei Skripal and his daughter Yulia in Salisbury, England, and its efforts to influence elections in the west.

Since taking the reins of Germany's Foreign Ministry last month, Maas has adopted a tougher stance towards Russia than some of his Social Democratic predecessors.

Read more: Germany's Steinmeier warns of growing estrangement between Russia and the West

Sigmar Gabriel had broached the idea of lifting Russian sanctions during his final months in office, while German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Sunday warned against demonizing Russia and urged lawmakers to avoid portraying Russia and its people as the enemy.

As relations between Russia and the West have grown increasingly strained, Berlin has walked a careful line with Moscow — pushing for ongoing sanctions over Ukraine on the one hand, while maintaining dialogue and strong trade relations on the other.

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dm,jm/aw (AP, Reuters)