German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier during his visit to Latvia this week. (Photo by Gints Ivuskans/AFP via Getty Images)
Berlin (CNSNews.com) – Recently re-elected German President Frank-Water Steinmeier has called on Russia to give “credible” signals to prove its announced troop withdrawal will actually take place. The comments Wednesday signal a change of tone, compared to past statements toward Russia, viewed as more accommodating.
“It is the Russian leadership that is seriously endangering peace in Europe with its current policy of military threats, » Steinmeier said during a two-day visit to the Latvian capital, Riga.
“It is the Russian leadership that is responsible for the fact that many people in Eastern Europe, including here in Latvia, are again concerned about war these days,” he said, adding that Latvia and its Baltic neighbors could rely on “Germany’s solidarity and support. »
Steinmeier also responded cautiously to Moscow’s publishing of video footage which it said was evidence of a partial troop withdrawal from near Ukraine’s border.
“We need clear, resilient, credible signals of de-escalation after the significant build-up of troops that took place on Russia’s western border,” he said.
Steinmeier’s comments echo those he made in a speech after his re-election on Sunday, when he said Russia “bears the responsibility” for “the danger of a military conflict, a war in Eastern Europe.”
The position of president in Germany is a largely ceremonial one, but is nonetheless the country’s highest leadership post. Presidents are elected by a specially-convened federal convention, voting by secret ballot.
Other Western leaders, including President Biden and NATO secretary-general Jens Stoltenberg, have also adopted a hesitant tone with regard to Russia’s claims it is withdrawing its troops.
British Defense Secretary Ben Wallace said Wednesday there was no “evidence at the moment of that withdrawal.”
“Physical observations that we see show the opposite of some of the recent rhetoric coming out of the Kremlin,” Wallace told the BBC.
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova shrugged off the skepticism: “We have to stop believing everything they say in Washington – especially in relation to Ukraine, the Ukrainian people and Russia.”
Steinmeier’s Latvian trip coincided with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Moscow, after which Scholz said there was scope for further diplomatic talks.
Scholz was praised by media here for what was seen as firm responses to Putin – a welcome development after his governing Social Democrats (SDP) drew flak for relative restraint on Russia, especially with regard to the Russia-to-Germany Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline.
Adding to Scholz’s headaches, a prominent former SPD member, former Chancellor Gerhart Schröder, came under fire for close ties to Putin, deep involvement in Russia’s state energy sector, and comments accusing NATO and the West for “saber rattling.”
Steinmeier, also a former SPD member, has like Schröder, also made statements in the past empathetic to Russia and critical of the West.
Last year, Steinmeier caused upset in Ukraine after comments that appeared to link the importance of Nord Stream 2 to a German historical debt to Russia, in reference to the Nazi offensive against the Soviet Union.
Earlier in his career, while serving as Germany’s foreign minister, Steinmeier attracted criticism in 2016 for calling NATO military exercises in Eastern Europe “saber rattling” – the same phrase used more recently by Schröder.
The change of tone from the president likely comes as a relief for the SPD, after having to publicly distance itself from Schröder.
Already holding high-level positions in Russian state energy companies, Schröder was recently nominated to the board of the gas giant Gazprom, prompting the SPD to publicly distance itself from him, and attracting calls for him to be stripped of the state-funded benefits he receives as a former chancellor.
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