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Six stumbling blocks in German-Russian relations

Fabian von der Mark
May 17, 2018

When Angela Merkel meets Vladimir Putin in Sochi, there will be new common ground to discuss: Germany and Russia both want to save the Iran deal. Beyond that, however, there are some serious differences.

Vladimir Putin and Angela Merkel
Image: picture-alliance/AP Photo/M. Schreiber

Hacker attacks

German secret services believe that Russian state agencies are behind cyberattacks on Germany. Attacks on the German Bundestag in 2015, as well as attacks on individual parties and foundations in Germany, are said to have been controlled from Russia. The German domestic intelligence service, BfV, also suspects Russia of being behind an attack on the German government network that transpired in February 2018. Large amounts of data were stolen during the attacks. Both parliament and the federal government have condemned the hacker attacks.

Russia's role in Syria

By supporting Syrian leader Bashar Assad, Russia is, from a German perspective, jointly responsible for war crimes in Syria. The German government strongly condemned the use of chemical weapons in Douma, northeast of Damascus. Although Germany did not take part in the Western powers' military retaliation, Angela Merkel declared that "Russia, as Assad's ally, must share responsibility here." The chancellor still wants to talk to President Putin about the chemical weapons attack, in which at least 60 people are alleged to have been killed.

Read more: The top 10 mistakes that make life easy for cyber-criminals

The annexation of Crimea

Germany views the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula in March 2014 as a breach of international law. Vladimir Putin has, this week, opened a new bridge from Russia to Crimea. Foreign policy spokesman for the Christian Democrats and the Christian Social Union (CDU/CSU) parliamentary group in the German Bundestag, Jürgen Hardt, told DW that the bridge is an "illegal construction." Germany has taken Ukraine's side in the dispute over the peninsula and, together with the EU and the US, imposed sanctions against Russia.

Aggressive intelligence activities

The Skripal case also caused outrage in Germany. Britain is convinced that Russia is behind the poison attack on the ex-spy and his daughter. Evidence provided by British authorities has also convinced Germany of this position and led the German government to expel four Russian diplomats. The attack in the southern British town of Salisbury and the hacker attacks on the German government are seen as Russia's most aggressive acts in Europe. Moscow is also believed to be responsible for campaigns of manipulation and disinformation across the European Union. EU Security Commissioner Julian King told DW that his team has counted over 3,000 cases of Russian propaganda in Europe.

Read more: Germany got Novichok chemical sample from Russia in 1990s

Lack of progress in eastern Ukraine

Germany is frustrated by the situation in eastern Ukraine. Fighting is continuing on the Ukrainian-Russian border, using heavy weapons. The OSCE has documented more than 400,000 violations of the peace process that was negotiated in the Minsk Agreement. German and French diplomats recently met Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko to discuss the situation. The last meeting with Putin in the Normandy contact group, which is a diplomatic group of senior representatives from Germany, Russia, Ukraine and France, took place in February. Angela Merkel has repeatedly called on the Russian president to exert his influence on the pro-Russian separatists.

Travel bans and harassment

Germany could only prevent a German journalist from being banned from attending the World Cup in Russia through intensive diplomatic efforts. ARD doping expert Hajo Seppelt was initially denied a visa to enter Russia. The German government asked Moscow to revoke its decision. In another case, Russia has taken action against critical voices from Germany by declaring German election observation NGO "European Platform for Democratic Elections" (EPD) to be an "undesirable organization" in Russia.