Moscow (AP) - At the meeting of Federal Foreign Minister Heiko Maas with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov in Moscow, there has been a violent exchange of views on media freedom in both countries.
Maas criticized above all the arrest of an employee of the German wave in the government-critical protests in Moscow. "This is an absolutely incomprehensible process," he said. Lavrov dismissed this and complained that employees of the state television channel RT (Russia Today) and the state agency in the EU were sometimes prevented from doing their job. There have been cases of exclusion of journalists at press conferences.
Lavrov stressed that Western media would not be obstructed in reporting on the protests. "There is access everywhere", said the Russian chief diplomat. Maas openly questioned Lawrow's statements that Russian media were blocked or marginalized: "Otherwise, they would not be everywhere," he said.
The Russian Foreign Ministry had accused Deutsche Welle, Germany's broadcaster, of calling for protests in Moscow. The station had rejected that and accused Russia of "methods of a police state". Unauthorized actions in the Russian capital had led to thousands of arrests, including some journalists from Western media.
The US was also accused of supporting demonstrations against the exclusion of the opposition from the Moscow City Council elections on 8 September. The Russian parliament has since established a body to investigate foreign interference in the protests.
Maas categorically rejected allegations of Germany's interference in Russia's internal affairs. "This is not realistic - neither in the present nor in the future - to believe that Germany or German media want to influence the domestic political developments or even initiate them," he said. At the same time, Maas emphasized that Russia, as a member of the Council of Europe, was committed to protecting freedom of the press and assembly.
The central theme of the meeting was the deadlocked conflict in eastern Ukraine. Maas insisted on an imminent meeting of foreign ministers between Russia and Ukraine under German-French mediation in order to get the peace effort back on track. "There must be no new victims in this war," said the SPD politician. In recent times, people were still killed. "This must be put an end to it."
There is currently a "momentum" that makes many things possible, stressed Maas. In the east of Ukraine, pro-Russian separatists and Ukrainian government troops have been fighting since 2014. Germany and France have been trying for five years to mediate between Ukraine and Russia in the so-called Normandie format. Since the inauguration of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Selenskyi in late May, there is hope for movement in the deadlocked conflict.
Selenskyj urges an early Normandy Summit at the level of Heads of State and Government. There was something like that last time in 2016. French President Emmanuel Macron said Tuesday after a meeting with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin that a summit could take place in the "next few weeks".
But it could be that a summit meeting is preceded by a meeting of foreign ministers. Maas hinted that this could happen soon after the formation of the government in Kiev. The new parliament of Ukraine is due to meet in September. There Selenskyj will have the majority after the election on July 21.
Maas again called on Russia to release the 24 sailors who have been in Russian detention since November. They had been forcibly stopped and arrested by the Russian Coast Guard while attempting to reach the Sea of Azov from the Black Sea. The men face up to six years imprisonment. In the Russian view, they had to register the passage in the Strait of Kerch. But they would have violated the state border of Russia.
On Thursday, Minister Maas plans to meet young people and representatives of Russian civil society. A visit to the Sakharov Human Rights Center and the Skolkovo Innovation District is planned. Lavrov and Maas had recently met at the Forum St. Petersburg Dialogue near Bonn a month ago.
This time, Maas had to fly to Moscow because of a defect on government planes with a troopship of the Bundeswehr. The reason: Due to a broken clamp in a hydraulic system, the intended machine had to be repaired at short notice. The SPD politician therefore had to move from the white VIP Airbus A340 on a much less comfortable and older aircraft of the type A310, with which usually soldiers are flown into the operational areas. But there was no delay.
Russian Foreign Ministry to the meeting