German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier has called on Germany and Russia to "rebuild a minimum of trust." He's the first German head of state to visit Russia in seven years.
President Steinmeier met Russian President Vladimir Putin on Wednesday for talks over Russo-German economic ties and the Ukraine and Syria conflicts.
"It's essential that we […] continue our dialog to try to improve our bilateral relations, the state of which we can't be happy about," Steinmeier told Putin at the start of talks.
Steinmeier, previously foreign minister, has long called for increased engagement with Moscow. Steinmeier's Social Democrats, which are expected to enter into the opposition after four years in a coalition government with Chancellor Angela Merkel's conservative CDU, want a gradual easing of EU sanctions on Moscow over its role in Ukraine.
"I come during times in which German-Russian relations have become difficult," Steinmeier said. "I see it as my responsibility to contribute to making sure that this doesn't last forever."
Frank-Walter Steinmeier also met Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union before its collapse
Relations have been strained since Moscow's 2014 annexation of Ukraine's Crimean Peninsulaand subsequent support for separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Putin said after the meeting that they, too, had agreed on the need to implement a 2015 peace deal for eastern Ukraine, adding that he and Steinmeier had discussed possible deployment of a UN peacekeeping contingent in the east.
He added that the talks also focused on Syria, the Iranian nuclear deal and the situation in North Korea.
Steinmeier also launched a disarmament initiative he hopes will push Russia and the US to start talks about reducing conventional arsenals.
A new Russia policy?
A new Russia policy is unlikely to take shape until Germany's coalition negotiations begin in late November.
Merkel, who has resisted moves to ease sanctions on Russia, is now trying to forge a three-way alliance with the pro-business Free Democrats and the Greens.
The Greens have backed a hard line against Moscow for its annexation of Crimea and backing for the Syrian government.
Steinmeier also held talks with Mikhail Gorbachev, the last leader of the Soviet Union before its collapse, and representatives of human rights organization Memorial.
The official reason for the visit was to witness the Russian government returning ownership of the St Peter and Paul cathedral in Moscow to the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Russia as part of festivities celebrating 500 years since the Reformation.
jbh/kms (AP, Reuters, dpa)