Publication: Monitor Volume: 5 Issue: 36

German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, together with delegations of German and European Union (EU) officials, wound up a two-day visit to Moscow on February 19. Talks between Russian and EU officials took place on February 18, while meetings between the top German and Russian leaders followed the next day. Germany currently holds the rotating presidency of the EU. The Russian-EU talks included a meeting of Schroeder, Russian President Boris Yeltsin and European Commission President Jacques Santer. A statement released at the close of those talks described Russian-EU relations as a “fundamental factor of peace and stability on the European continent” and expressed the hope that Russia and the EU could work out a “common approach to the challenge of the 21st century.”

Despite the lofty rhetoric, the February 18 talks were described as “very candid”–diplomatic jargon suggesting some contentiousness–and yielded little in the way of concrete agreement beyond finalizing an earlier accord which will bring European food aid to Russia. Moscow was apparently rebuffed in its efforts to win EU help in securing new investments from European banks. EU officials reportedly made clear, as did their German counterparts that day and the next, that financial assistance to Moscow would be limited to specific projects, the details of which remain to be worked out. Among the projects under discussion are a new natural gas pipeline linking gas fields on Russia’s Yamal Peninsula with Western Europe, and also the building and modernizing of highways from Russia to various European cities. The February 18 Russian-EU summit was the third of its kind since an agreement on partnership and cooperation came into force in December of 1997 (AP, Russian agencies, February 18).

The German-Russian summit also produced little in terms of concrete agreements. As the Russian side had hoped, the summit did include meetings between a number of ministers from each country, as well as talks between businessmen from the two countries. As he had during a visit to Moscow last fall–soon after becoming Chancellor–Schroeder made clear, however, that his style of dealing with Russia would be more pragmatic and less personal than was that of his predecessor, Helmut Kohl. Russian President Boris Yeltsin and Prime Minister Yevgeny Primakov, with whom Schroeder met on February 19, nevertheless proclaimed their satisfaction over what they said was Schroeder’s intention to maintain continuity in Russian-German relations.

Germany is Russia’s leading trading partner and foreign lender, but Schroeder last year strongly criticized then-Chancellor Kohl for his overly cozy friendship with Yeltsin. Russian officials have feared since Schroeder’s election that he would move to downgrade ties with Moscow.