Russia’s Foreign Ministry yesterday attempted to play down the significance of Social Democrat Gerhard Schroeder’s victory in Germany’s general election this past weekend. Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman Vladimir Rakhmanin said that Moscow hopes Schroeder’s new government “will promote the continued strengthening of relations of mutual confidence between Russia and Germany.” According to a Foreign Ministry statement, “there is [in Moscow] a firm mood for such cooperation, a will to establish direct regular contacts with the new German leadership without delay.” It was, according to the statement, also important to avoid any pause in bilateral cooperation while Germany and Russia form new governments (Reuters, Russian agencies, September 28).
Russian sources made clear yesterday that they had been following the polls in the weeks leading up to the German election, and that they were therefore not surprised by Schroeder’s victory. The defeat suffered by long-time German Chancellor Helmut Kohl nevertheless ends something of an era for the Kremlin as well as for Germany. In the years following Russian independence, Kohl emerged as Russian President Boris Yeltsin’s most steadfast supporter in the West. He also appeared to develop the closest personal ties to the Russian leader. That relationship served in part as a catalyst for German commercial banks, which have invested more than US$30 billion in Russia–more than any other country. A large portion of those loans are guaranteed by Kohl’s government.
Kohl’s strong support of Yeltsin had arisen as a domestic political issue in Germany occasionally in the past. But, against the background of Russia’s current financial woes, it became a significant political liability for Kohl during the latest election campaign. Despite the brave face it put on yesterday, Russia’s Foreign Ministry may have some reason to be concerned over Schroeder’s election. Schroeder was far cooler than Kohl toward the Kremlin during the recent campaign. The Social Democratic leader accused Kohl of having invested too much in his friendship with the Russian leader. He likewise questioned Yeltsin’s ability to maintain stability in Russia (Reuters, Washington Post, September 28).
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