After the release of Putin critic Mikhail Khodorkosvky, Germany should reach out to Russia, but also continue addressing deficits such as Russia's lack of independent justice, says Andreas Schockenhoff.
DW: Mr. Schockenhoff, it's been 10 years where virtually nothing has happened and then all of the sudden things move very quickly. What's behind Putin's sudden pardon for Kremlin critic and former oil magnate Mikhail Khodorkovsky?
Andreas Schockenhoff: What's important is that Khodorkovsky has been released. I'm pleased about that, also because of his family situation - his mother is seriously ill. At the same time you have to say a pardon does not replace a fair trial. Khodorkovsky's conviction violated basic legal principles. Therefore we have to continue to criticize this form of politically controlled justice.
Khodorkovsky was convicted in two trials for fraud and forming a criminal organization and was sentenced to several years of imprisonment. Critics say the trials were politically motivated. Is it realistic that he would receive a fair trial?
The charges of the two trials he was faced with up until now contradict each other. But nevertheless, we should reach out to Russia. We want a modern, constitutional, open Russia; a Russia where corruption is finally tackled.
Putin does not seem to be very interested in whether reasons for the verdict are logical or not. Is the release of Khodorkovsky just a goodwill gesture ahead of the Olympic Winter Games in Sochi or could the human rights situation in Russia really improve?
It doesn't matter what the motives are. In any case: we need to seize this occasion to reach out to Russia. It's an opportunity. One shouldn't say 'This is just tactics, this is just superficial.' We need to talk with Russia about how we can solve international issues together like the conflict in Syria or in Iran. To tell them we are ready and that cooperation with Ukraine or with other countries bordering EU member states is not aimed against Russia as perceived by Putin. It's quite the contrary.
Former German Foreign Minister Hans-Dietrich Genscher strongly advocated for Khodorkovsky's release and met him at the airport in Berlin on Friday (20.12.2013). That sounds like a semi-official, almost ceremonial procedure.
Genscher used to counsel Khodorkosky's lawyers as well which wasn't an official procedure. Genscher is a highly regarded former politician who doesn't hold political office anymore. Insofar - with his experience and without being part of the government - he was in a position where he could mediate.
Looking forward, what consequences will this development have for German-Russian relations?
We are totally unable to predict the impact. It is important for us to reach out to Russia - but to also openly talk about deficits.
With regard to Sochi and Ukraine, German politics take up a different stance, contrary to Russia's positions. Is this the right way?
Contrary to Putin's positions, not contrary to Russia - there are many voices in Russia. It's the right way for Ukraine to be a sovereign and independent country. And we cannot accept that Russia still wants to determine how Ukraine chooses to integrate into Europe, especially because Ukraine's integration into Europe is not aimed against Russia.
Khodorkovsky's case is not a single incident. One could argue that his case partially distracts from the case of environmental activist Yevgeny Vitishko who demonstrated against the environmental impact of construction for the 2014 Sochi Winter Games. A court has now turned his suspended sentence into a prison sentence. What do you make of that?
There are numerous such cases and you have to see that there is no independent justice in Russia. In such cases judges do not decide independently and therefore there are no fair trials. It's an issue for Russia's entire legal system. That's why we have to address the issue of rule of law when speaking with Russia.
Andreas Schockenhoff is a member of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's CDU party and serves as Germany's Commissioner for German-Russian Coordination. It has not been decided yet whether he will continue his position - Germany's new Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier (SPD) and Merkel are expected to decide on these matters early next year. In 2012, Schockenhoff initiated a motion in parliament which strongly criticized Moscow's action against opposition members.