St Petersburg international Economic Forum: German businesses growing restive under the US anti-Russian sanctions

"Now we are in a mess and we have to get out of it," says Thiele



Main points: The sanctions are shaky, Germany is again seeking proximity to Russia
Germany wants to improve its relationship with Russia, 
Some are already talking about lifting the Crimean sanctions. This is also due to Nord Stream 2.
Russia’s president can again hope for less criticism and resistance from Germany. 

Vladimir Putin, Russia’s president can again hope for less criticism and resistance from Germany.
St. Petersburg: German politicians again seeking rapprochement with Russia. Leading politicians from the CDU and SPD are calling for an end to the sanctions. Meanwhile, doubts about the timely completion of Nord Stream 2 are getting louder.
As numerous and prominent as they are here in 2019, the German participants were not represented for years at the home event of Kremlin leader Vladimir Putin.  “This is the first time in more than five years that a German Minister of Economic Affairs is taking part again,” said Peter Altmaier at the opening of a dialogue panel entitled “Russia – Germany.”
He had already signed a memorandum of understanding with his Russian colleague Maxim Oreshkin to establish an “efficiency partnership.”
The German economy expects this to give new impetus, in particular to engineering, which has been badly affected by the sanctions.
Russia, for its part, urgently needs technology to achieve the goals set in the Kremlin, for example, by massively increasing labor productivity. For Heinz Herrmann Thiele, the head of Knorr Bremse, the efficiency partnership is “a small step forward.” The entrepreneur asks for more, “we need giant steps, political steps,” urging vehemently for the abolition of sanctions.

Since the Crimean crisis, Russia has increasingly turned to China, which apparently paid no attention to the imposition of sanctions. “Now we are in a mess and we have to get out of it,” says Thiele. The demands for the abolition of sanctions from the German economy are not new.

Kretschmer and Schwesig demand sanctions reduction
What is new, however, is that politicians from the parties to the governing coalition are apparently ready to swing: “We have to reduce the sanctions. I sincerely hope that both sides move towards each other,” said Saxony’s Prime Minister Michael Kretschmer (CDU), who also traveled to St. Petersburg on Friday. In this openness and without making them conditional, this demand has not yet been voiced by leading CDU politicians.

Kretschmer received support from Manuela Schwesig (SPD) in Petersburg. Economic relations are a very important part of German-Russian relations, which should be improved, said the Prime Minister of Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania to Handelsblatt.
This is a demand from society, surveys have shown that almost 80 percent of people in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania endorse rapprochement with Russia. Sanction-induced losses are especially large in in the new federal states. “The East German Prime Ministers appealed to the federal government two years ago to phase out the sanctions,” she said.
Altmaier, on the other hand, continues to link the reduction of sanctions to progress in the peace process. The Minsk agreement must be implemented and Russia must be involved. [Translator comment: This means no sanctions removal so far as Altmeier is concerned. Minsk is long since dead, murdered in Kiev, a murder that Russia has nothing to do with]

It is regrettable that developments in recent months have suffered setbacks from the Azov incident or the irritating issue of Russian passports to the people of Donbass, Altmaier said. He had once again made this clear in his talks at ministerial level and had met with understanding, said the Saarlander.

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Completion of Nord Stream 2
But the Federal Government is also making an effort to bring Russia closer again. Despite the sanctions, there are opportunities to consolidate the economic ties, Altmaier was convinced. The 60-year-old described Washington’s planned sanctions against the pipeline project as “problematic.”
The federal government is interested in a good relationship with the US, but will enforce German interests, he said in Petersburg. As European gas demand increases over the next few years, both Nord Stream 2 and Ukraine’s retention of gas transit are not only possible but necessary, Altmaier argued.

Gazprom leader Alexei Miller said that too much attention is being paid to gas transit through Ukraine. More important is the question of future gas supplies from Russia to Ukraine. Miller was willing to compromise on the issue. Russia is ready to give Ukraine a 25 percent discount.

The negotiations between Kiev and Moscow are currently on hold for an extension of gas contracts, which expire at the end of the year. However, the talks will be resumed soon after the new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskii has assembled his government team, which will also make it clear who is going to negotiate on the Ukrainian side.

Schröder denounces Denmark
Meanwhile, former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder expressed doubts about the timely completion of the pipeline, which should actually go into operation at the end of 2019. Schröder, who now runs the operating company of Nord Stream 2, accused the Danish government of torpedoing the project.
In contrast to the other riparian states, Copenhagen has not yet granted permission to relocate the tubes in its territorial waters. Therefore, Nord Stream 2 warned a month ago in a report of a possible postponement of the start-up to the second half of 2020.

In Petersburg, Schröder now alleged that Copenhagen was acting under pressure from Washington and Kiev against the interests of the EU. “Denmark faces its partners here – Germany and the EU,” said the ex-chancellor.
According to him, progress can only be expected in the event of a change of government – he hopes that following the recent elections in Denmark, the new government will be more ready to talk and that it will be able to establish “a sensible dialogue,” said Schröder in Petersburg. Social Democrats won a majority vote in Denmark in the middle of the week.

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