Publication: Fortnight in Review Volume: 6 Issue: 13

“Despite a rocky start to his European trip, occasioned by criticism of Gusinsky’s arrest in Moscow, Putin appeared to get much of what he wanted in Berlin. In public at least, the German side had little to say about the Gusinsky case, and officials also quieted what had earlier been strong German criticism of Russia’s bloody war in the Caucasus. Schroeder and Putin, meanwhile, appeared to get along well personally. That chemistry was probably aided by Putin’s fluency in German and his detailed knowledge of Germany, abilities that were sharpened by the Russian president’s 1980s stint as a Soviet intelligence officer in the DDR.

The determination of both sides to improve bilateral ties was evident in their proclamation of an emerging German-Russian “strategic partnership,” no small thing given that Berlin describes its relations with the United States using the same formulation. Putin, for his part, went so far as to call Germany “Russia’s leading partner in Europe and the world.” That seemed a bit of an exaggeration, but did seem to signal that, in Europe at least, the Kremlin may now be emphasizing its ties to Berlin rather than to London, as had been the case earlier.

While Putin did not win the debt relief that he had hoped for from Schroeder, he did appear to garner at least cautious support from the German leader on several key security issues. They included Moscow’s opposition to U.S. missile defense plans and to Washington’s efforts to amend the 1972 Anti-Ballistic Missile treaty, as well as a recent Russian counterproposal calling for the joint development by Russia, NATO, Europe and the United States of a theater missile defense shield for Europe. Putin also used a speech in Berlin on June 15 to renew Moscow’s attack on NATO’s enlargement plans. He warned, among other things, that Russia would see any move to include the three former Soviet Baltic states in NATO as a reckless act and a major strategic challenge to Moscow.