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Russia, Germany emphasize shared interest despite…

MOSCOW – Germany’s top diplomat emphasized Russia’s global role while in Moscow for wide-ranging talks Tuesday but also the irritants that have strained relations between the two countries.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas described Russia as an essential partner in resolving “the many conflicts and crises in the world,” saying after his talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov, “It is important that we communicate well bilaterally.”

Maas said Berlin and Moscow also must be able to discuss issues that directly involve them both, such as charges brought in Germany against a Russian accused of killing a Georgian man in Berlin a year ago and the accusations leveled at another Russian over his alleged role in the hacking of the German parliament.

“Wherever needed, it´s important that we talk openly. That´s how we did it in the past as well,” he said.

German prosecutors have filed murder charges against the Russian man accused of killing Zelimkhan “Tornike” Khangoshvili, a Georgian citizen of Chechen ethnicity who fought against Russian troops in Chechnya. The prosecutors said the suspect had acted on orders from the Russian authorities.

The case prompted Germany to expel two Russian diplomats in December, citing a lack of cooperation with the investigation. Russia has dismissed the German criticism and insisted it has remained ready to cooperate.

In the 2015 parliament hacking incident, German prosecutors have issued a warrant for Dmitry Badin, who is allegedly an officer with Russia´s GRU military intelligence agency. Badin was already being sought by U.S. authorities and is believed to be part of the hacker group known as APT28, or Fancy Bear.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel has cited “hard evidence” that correspondence from her parliamentary office was among the documents targeted in the attack.

“Germany will protect the security of the people online and offline without compromises,” Maas said Tuesday, adding: “We don´t have any interest that the German-Russian relations hit rocky waters – that´s not where we want to have it.”

Moscow has rejected Germany´s allegations over Russian intelligence involvement in a cyberattack against the German Bundestag as “absurd” and “unfounded.”

Despite the frictions, both Maas and Lavrov emphasized the nations’ shared interests, including the construction of the Nord Stream pipeline intended to carry Russian natural gas to Germany under the Baltic Sea.

The United States has strongly opposed the project and threatened it with sanctions, arguing that it would increase Germany’s already strong dependence on Russian energy.

Maas noted the importance of Germany’s strong ties with the U.S., but criticized Washington’s approach as inappropriate.

“This (the transatlantic relationship) goes deeper than just day-to-day developments, yet we must make it very clear that sanctions between partners are definitely the wrong way, and ultimately it remains our sovereign decision where we get our energy from,” he said. “No state has the right to dictate Europe´s energy policy with threats, and this also will not work.”

Lavrov said that the pipeline stands to be completed this year despite American efforts to derail the project.

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Kirsten Grieshaber in Berlin contributed to this report.

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