Peace in Europe not possible without Russia, German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s coalition partner warns, after EU deploys sanctions

The Social Democratic Party, a key member of Germany’s ruling coalition, has said that it wants to see the country take a different approach to relations with Russia, despite escalating diplomatic tensions in recent days.

In a manifesto published on its website and reported by Moscow-based outlets on Wednesday, Berlin’s second largest political grouping in the national parliament told its supporters that “despite all the necessary criticism, we are counting on Russia’s readiness to engage in dialogue and cooperation.”

“Peace in Europe,” the statement added, “is not possible against Russia, only with Russia. Civil society contacts are valuable in relations with [the country], and we want to continue supporting and expanding that.” At the same time, the center-left party calls for an easing of the visa regime between Germany and Russia to enable young people to participate in that exchange.

However, the SPD singles out thorny political issues that still remain as sources of tension between Moscow and the West, including the status of Crimea, the war in eastern Ukraine, purported Russian cyber-attacks, and the alleged poisoning of opposition figure Alexey Navalny.

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The imprisoned anti-corruption campaigner and the policing of subsequent protests held in his support were cited as reasons for a new round of sanctions against Russia unveiled simultaneously by the EU and US on Tuesday. The measures, which will see four Russian officials hit with financial and travel restrictions, are likely to provoke a reciprocal response from Moscow, Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov announced the same day.

The SPD has supported the government of German Chancellor Angela Merkel as part of a formal coalition agreement with her party, the Christian Democratic Union (CDU). For her part, Merkel has said she will stand down from the top job later this year after 15 years at the helm.

In January, veteran politician and leader of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia Armin Laschet won the race to take over the leadership of the CDU, snatching pole position to succeed Merkel as chancellor. Describing himself as a political realist, Laschet has warned against demonizing Russian President Vladimir Putin over the 2014 reabsorbing of the Crimean Peninsula. “Feel-good moralizing and domestic slogans are not foreign policy,” he said.

Germany has, in recent decades, been among the EU nations most economically intertwined with Russia, despite sometimes fractious political relations. The two countries boast Europe’s largest economies by some distance when measured by purchasing power parity.

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Berlin has remained resolutely supportive of the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, backed by Russia’s state energy firm Gazprom, despite sanctions from the US, which has argued that it poses a threat to security in Europe.

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