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Russia-Friendly FM Steinmeier Tapped for President of Germany

Frank-Walter Steinmeier has been a critic of EU sanctions on Russia and an advocate of rapprochement

Germany's ruling coalition has backed Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier as the country's next president, succeeding Joachim Gauck, whose five-year term ends in February, 2017.

In Germany, the president is elected by secret ballot for a term of five years by the Federal Convention which mirrors the aggregated majority situation of the Bundestag and the parliaments of the 16 German federal states. The vote will take place on February 12. With the conservative Union’s support behind him, Mr. Steinmeier seems certain to become president as the ruling coalition commands an absolute majority in the Federal Assembly

The agreement on a common candidate is a clear signal for continuation of the governing coalition comprising the CDU/CSU and SPD after the federal elections in autumn 2017.

Chancellor Angela Merkel described Steinmeier as an outstanding candidate for the presidency. «Mr. Steinmeier is a person representing a political center. He is well-respected by the business community, by the society, both in our country and abroad»,Merkel told reporters in Berlin. «For this reason, I believe that he is an outstanding candidate for the position of the federal president», she said. The Chancellor is widely expected to run for a fourth term in office and a poll last week showed more than half of Germans want her to do so.

Media reports say that Steinmeier could be replaced by European Parliament president Martin Schulz, a Social Democrat, as foreign minister.

The ruling coalition’s desire to show a unified front gained new urgency after the election of Trump, at a time when anti-establishment parties are taking root across Europe and the anti-immigrant Alternative for Germany has made rapid gains.

The decision means a change in Germany’s policy on Russia. Steinmeier is widely expected to be friendly to Moscow. His predecessor, the outgoing President Joachim Gauck, has severed all ties with his Russian counterpart and never visited Russia. In 2013, he boycotted the Sochi Winter Olympics.

Indeed, Russia and Germany have been going through hard times in their relationship but Mr. Steinmeier has made a significant contribution to prevent it from sliding to the lowest ebb. The would-be president boasts good working relationship with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. Personal chemistry and is a very important factor for improvement of relations.

In 2008, Steinmeier initiated the concept for a German-Russian partnership for modernization. He often visits Russia to supervise the pet project. The foreign minister is an honorary doctor of Ural Federal University, where he is a frequent visitor.

Mr. Steinmeier advocates gradual easing of anti-Russian restrictive measures. In late October, he opposed the imposing of the new sanctions against Moscow amid situation in the Syrian Aleppo. The idea was floated at the EU foreign ministers’ meeting in Luxemburg. The presidential candidate believes Russia has a key role to play in managing crises across the world, especially in Syria.

As president of the leading European country, Mr. Steinmeier can contribute into turning the tide and putting an end to the process of arms control erosion to enhance European security.

In late August, the German foreign minister published an article in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung daily which put forward proposals to negotiate a new multilateral treaty on conventional arms control in Europe. He called for «concrete security initiatives» including regional caps on armaments, transparency measures, rules covering new military technology such as drones, and the ability to control arms even in disputed territories. His proposals are on the OSCE agenda now. This is a right initiative to come up with at the time when arms control and security regime in Europe has weakened so much.

In his comments on NATO’s increased presence and activities near Russia’s borders, Mr. Steinmeier accused the alliance of «warmongering» against Russia. He spoke out against NATO military exercises in Poland and the Baltic States in summer, describing them as «saber-rattling». «The one thing we shouldn’t do now is inflame the situation with loud saber-rattling and warmongering», the foreign minister told Bild am Sonntag newspaper. «Anyone who thinks a symbolic tank parade on the alliance’s eastern border will bring security is wrong», he noted.

The approval of Mr. Steinmeier’s candidacy is another event to indicate the trend towards better relations between the West and Russia. It took place after Mr. Trump’s victory at the presidential election in the United States. Pro-Russia candidates have just won in Bulgaria and Moldova.

The opposition to the anti-Russia sanctions policy is growing stronger in Europe. With Mr. Steinmeier in office, the chances for significant improvement of the relations between Russia and the West will significantly grow. More and more Western politicians who call for better relations with Moscow come to power - the trend that augurs positive changes to take place for the common good. 

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