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Gabriel campaigns for better ties with Moscow

September 22, 2016

German Vice Chancellor Sigmar Gabriel urged Russia to show more cooperation in peace talks for Syria. He also opened negotiations on a number of trade deals while in Moscow.

Sigmar Gabriel and Vladimir Putin
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/I. Sekretarev/Pool

Vice Chancellor Gabriel urged Russian officials to conduct a thorough inquiry into the recent attack on a United Nations humanitarian aid convoy, which saw at least 20 civilians killed near Aleppo and marked the end of a weeklong ceasefire in the country.

Speaking to reporters during a two-day visit to Moscow, Gabriel said there was a high likelihood that the Syrian military was involved in the incident, calling it a "dramatic setback" for the peace process in Syria.

"We are not able to resolve this conflict without Russia," Gabriel said.

Blame game between US and Russia

Russia continues to support the Syrian government as a major ally, clashing repeatedly with the United States, which wants to see President Bashar al-Assad's government ousted. Gabriel said he urged the Russian leader to use his influence on Assad to de-escalate the situation in Syria.

The United States believes that Russian aircraft were responsible for the attack outside Aleppo, but Moscow has denied any involvement. The Russian Defense Ministry meanwhile claimed that a US Predator drone had been in the vicinity of the attack. Putin added during the meeting with Gabriel that he would like to see more collaboration and urged the US to protect aid convoys in Syria.

The Syrian city of Aleppo has been under siege for months, with aid convoys failing to reach its inhabitantsImage: Reuters/A. Ismail

Gabriel reiterated that Russia continued to deny any involvement in the attack on the aid convoy, adding that President Putin had said he was keen to re-establish the ceasefire.

No-fly zone?

Vice Chancellor Gabriel said he supported the idea of establishing a no-fly zone in Syria, as previously suggested by German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier. He stressed, however, that this would be only feasible with the support of Russia and the United States.

"This is an appropriate demand, especially if it has come to UN convoys being under attack."

Gabriel stressed that the meeting with Putin did not highlight the issue of the no-fly zone. However, the implementation of a no-fly zone over Syria is generally regarded as an unlikely scenario.

Can Russian-German business ties be mended?

Opposition to rapprochement

The vice chancellor, who is also minister of economic affairs, also met with his Russian counterpart Alexey Ulyukaev to revive German-Russian economic ties. According to the Russian news agency Interfax, Germany and Russia started negotiations on building a train line between Moscow and the Russia city of Kazan, as well as a number of pipeline projects.

However, not everyone is happy about Gabriel's initiative to alleviate relations with Russia. German MP Karl-Georg Wellmann said that the vice chancellor's actions went against sanctions still in place against Russia in response to the 2014 annexation of Crimea. Wellmann said that Gabriel's attempts at rapprochement sent the "wrong signal."

Katrin Göring-Eckardt, a parliamentary leader of the Green Party, meanwhile told the daily "Bild" newspaper that talks between Berlin and Moscow were "necessary," adding, however, that Gabriel should not refrain from taking a hard line.

ss/jil (dpa, Reuters)