‘Must prevent new Cold War’, says Germany’s Russia expert

German Deputy Foreign Minister Gernot Erler gestures during an interview with Reuters in Berlin in this May 31, 2006 file picture. Beirut's offer to send troops to south Lebanon is a useful step which could help an international force stabilise the region, Erier told Reuters on August 8, 2006. REUTERS/Alexandra Beckstein/Files (GERMANY) - RTR1G7LB

BERLIN: Germany wants to keep up a dialogue with Moscow despite joining Western expulsions of Russian diplomats and must avoid a new Cold War, the German government’s coordinator for Russia said in a newspaper interview.

Gernot Erler told the Passauer Neue Presse that Berlin’s decision to send four diplomats back to Russia was a sign of solidarity with Britain after a nerve agent attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in England. But despite Berlin’s firm position with Moscow, channels of communication will remain open, Erler said in comments released on Wednesday.

“We have a clear and unshakeable position, but we want to stay in dialogue with Moscow,” said Erler, a member of the left-leaning Social Democrats (SPD). “We must do everything possible to prevent a new Cold War with Russia!”

European Union member Ireland as well as Moldova on Tuesday joined the list of countries expelling Russian diplomats over the attack on Skripal, a former double agent. The list includes 22 EU states; Britain led the way by kicking out 23 diplomats. There has been broad consensus among German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservatives and the SPD, her junior coalition partners, on standing with Britain in taking a tough stance towards Moscow over the Skripal case.

Merkel has repeatedly called on Russia to cooperate in the investigation. Russia has denied any responsibility for the poisoning of Skripal, 66, and his 33-year-old daughter Yulia with a nerve toxin in the English city of Salisbury on March 4. The opposition far-right Alternative for Germany (AfD) rebuked Merkel’s government on Tuesday for joining the Western expulsions of Russian diplomats after the attack on Skripal, arguing that this harmed Germany.

The AfD campaigned to end sanctions on Russia imposed by Germany and other Western countries over Moscow’s role in the Ukraine crisis, and says it wants to improve relations with Russia.

“Despite economic interests in an end to the Russia sanctions, politics must take precedence,” Erler said.