War and peace: Germany’s balancing act with Russia

Berlin (dpa) – The row over the alleged nerve agent attack on Russian dissident Alexei Navalny is the latest chapter in a complicated relationship between Germany and Russia going back years.

Relations took a nosedive in 2014, following Russia’s annexation of Crimea shortly before war broke out in eastern Ukraine, and worsened further over Moscow’s crucial military support for President Bashar al-Assad in the Syrian civil war.

The next major rift came last year, this time following a crime on German soil.

A Georgian national of Chechen descent, said to have fought against Russia on the side of Muslim Chechens in the early 2000s, was shot dead in central Berlin in August 2019, in a killing that Germany’s attorney general says was ordered by the Russian state.

In December, Berlin expelled two Russian diplomats, alleging that Russia had not been willing to cooperate in investigating the crime. Moscow responded by expelling two German diplomats.

Germany was also infuriated by a 2015 hacking attack on the parliament in Berlin.

In March, Chancellor Angela Merkel decried Russia’s “outrageous” behaviour, citing “hard evidence” of the country’s involvement in the cyberattack.

But despite their differences, Moscow is a key partner to Berlin on a number of issues.

These centre on foreign policy matters, including long-running efforts to negotiate peace in eastern Ukraine, in which Germany plays a mediating role.

Germany and Russia have also been strengthening economic ties, including with the construction of the Nord Stream 2 pipeline to carry Russian natural gas directly to Germany.

The United States has imposed sanctions on the pipeline, alleging that it would increase Europe’s dependence on Russia. But just earlier this week, Merkel said she was determined to see the project completed.

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