Der Spiegel reports: With the Wednesday evening sun shining in his face, German Economics Minister Sigmar Gabriel is standing at the entrance to the HanseMesse convention center in the northern German city of Rostock. He’s surrounded by cardboard sandwich boards displaying the center’s motto: “Where the world comes together.” Today, the sentence is half true at best: The world isn’t coming together in Rostock, rather German and Russian business leaders are converging here. It is the second “Russia Day” and Gabriel is the keynote speaker.
The focus of the gathering is on business, but when Russia is involved, politics are never far away. Even Gabriel’s appearance sends a political message, as is his demonstratively friendly treatment of Russia’s industry minister — not to mention the first sentence he speaks into the microphone: “Isolation is not at all helpful.”
Later in his speech, Gabriel expands on that sentiment, saying isolation is not a tenable policy and that only continued dialogue is helpful. He says that Russia has recently shown that it can be a reliable partner and mentions the nuclear deal with Iran as an example. He says that Russia and the world are dependent on each other — and that the time has come for a step-by-step easing of sanctions.
Gabriel voiced a similar message prior to the most recent extension of the sanctions against Russia. Nothing came of it then, but things could be different this time.
As expected, G-7 leaders reiterated their hardline approach to Moscow in the Japan summit’s closing statement. Chancellor Angela Merkel complained last Thursday that there still isn’t a stable cease-fire in Ukraine and the law pertaining to local elections in eastern Ukraine, as called for by the Minsk Protocol, still hasn’t been passed. That, she said, is why “it is not to be expected” that the West will change its approach to Russia.
What Merkel didn’t say, though, is that behind the scenes, her government has long since developed concrete plans for a step-by-step easing of the sanctions against Russia and that the process could begin as early as this year. [Continue reading…]