Germany’s Russia expert warns against new ‘Cold War’

"We have a clear and unshakeable position, but we want to stay in dialogue with Moscow," said Gernot Erler. [Vaiz Ha / Flickr]

Germany wants to keep up a dialogue with Moscow despite joining Western expulsions of Russian diplomats and must avoid a new Cold War, the German government’s coordinator for Russia said in a newspaper interview.

Gernot Erler told the Passauer Neue Presse that Berlin’s decision to send four diplomats back to Russia was a sign of solidarity with Britain after a nerve agent attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in England.

But despite Berlin’s firm position with Moscow, channels of communication will remain open, Erler said in comments released on Wednesday (28 March).

“We have a clear and unshakeable position, but we want to stay in dialogue with Moscow,” said Erler, a member of the left-leaning Social Democrats (SPD).

“We must do everything possible to prevent a new Cold War with Russia!”

Expulsions

European Union member Ireland as well as Moldova on Tuesday joined the list of countries expelling Russian diplomats over the attack on Skripal, a former double agent. The list includes 22 EU states; Britain led the way by kicking out 23 diplomats.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said the mass expulsions were “a blow from which Russian intelligence will need many years to recover”.

There has been broad consensus among German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives and the SPD, her junior coalition partners, on standing with Britain in taking a tough stance towards Moscow over the Skripal case.

Merkel has repeatedly called on Russia to cooperate in the investigation. Russia has denied any responsibility for the poisoning of Skripal, 66, and his 33-year-old daughter Yulia with a nerve toxin in the English city of Salisbury on March 4.

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EU leaders backed Britain in the night of 22 to 23 March in blaming Moscow over a nerve agent attack on a former Russian spy in England, raising the possibility of additional retaliatory steps by European countries.

The opposition far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) rebuked Merkel’s government on Tuesday for joining the Western expulsions of Russian diplomats after the attack on Skripal, arguing that this harmed Germany.

The AfD campaigned to end sanctions on Russia imposed by Germany and other Western countries over Moscow’s role in the Ukraine crisis, and says it wants to improve relations with Russia.

“Despite economic interests in an end to the Russia sanctions, politics must take precedence,” Erler said.

Salisbury attack: new economic sanctions would be counterproductive

Sanctions introduced in 2014 following Russia’s annexation of Crimea have had a mixed impact on the country and have come at a cost for the EU. EURACTIV.fr reports.

‘No evidence’ says Russia

Russia’s Ambassador to Australia said on Wednesday the world will enter into a “Cold War situation” should the West continue its bias against Moscow.

Logvinov rejected claims that Moscow was behind the attack and said Russia has yet to decide on its response to the diplomatic action by British allies.

“I said we have no evidence. The British stubbornly denied giving any evidence. They have denied following the provisions and protocol of the Convention on Prohibition of Chemical Weapons,” he said.

But British officials claim the opposite. London has shared “unprecedented levels of intelligence with partners” since the attack, a senior government official said on Wednesday (28 March), culminating in the response from capitals around the world.

Those comments were supported by French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. Speaking after a an EU summit in Brussels last Friday, Macron said the UK had “shared elements of evidence that led us to the same conclusion” regarding  Moscow’s responsibility for the Salisbury attack.

British Prime Minister Theresa May “gave evidence” to EU leaders at last week’s summit in Brussels, Merkel concurred.

“We have confidence in the expertise” submitted by Britain, added Merkel, who was speaking alongside Macron on Friday.

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