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Why Germany's giving Russia a bearhug

While much of Europe is wary of the bear to the east, Germany continues to pull Russia into European culture and business, although some recent bilateral deals have faltered.

By Staff writer / February 3, 2010

Russian President Dmitry Medvedev was greeted last year in Munich by a girl in traditional Bavarian dress.

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Paris

As Europe debates how to handle a restless Russia on its eastern flank, one country continues to strengthen its ties to the east: Germany. Not all of Germany's neighbors are thrilled about Germany's partnership with the large bear that has more than once threatened gas supplies to the chilly continent. But for Germany, which sees itself as an agent to draw Russia westward and extend commerce, it is a natural move.

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"Our policy is to one day bring Russia into Europe, where it belongs in its heart and its culture," says Gert Weisskirchen, a senior foreign-affairs voice for the Social Democratic Party. "Russia wants and needs partnerships. What kind of state is it? A resource-oriented petrostate. It needs to change. If you are in the political elite in Moscow, who is your partner? India? China? Forget it."

Under Chancellor Angela Merkel, Germany has seen a rush of commercial and energy deals and visits. The Nord Stream pipeline project linking Germany and Russia, for example, raised eyebrows in Europe and Washington as a bilateral deal that left the European Union out.

Yet elections last fall brought a pause in the partnership. The bust-up of an Opel deal that would see a billion dollars help modernize Russia's auto industry, the delay of a shipyard deal in the north that Mrs. Merkel and Russian leader Vladimir Putin pushed, and renewed German attention to the EU Lisbon Treaty and transatlantic relations – all have slowed robust diplomacy with Moscow.

Berlin is also reviewing elements of its Ostpolitik, or policy toward the East.

"No one in Berlin has been talking about Russia since Nov. 9 [the celebration of the fall of the Berlin Wall]," says Alexander Rahr of the German Council on Foreign Relations. "Some big deals have not gone through. Frankly, I'm amazed."

Still, the underlying elements of Germany's Russia project remain in place, analysts say. In the past decade, Germany – becoming a "normal" nation and looking to its own interests – has cultivated a mutual trust with Moscow that other EU nations don't share. That trust is based not only on German energy dependence and Russian purchases of German exports but also a deep understanding that seems to transcend history and conflict – growing stronger even during the so-called "mini cold war" at the end of the Bush administration.

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