Russia calls for Germany ‘reset’ as far-right AfD deputies visit Moscow

Navalny poisoning and Berlin ‘contract hit’ the latest issues to strain bilateral relations

Russian foreign minister Sergei Lavrov has welcomed a delegation from Germany's far-right Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) to Moscow and told them that strained relations between his country and Berlin need to be "reset".

Tension over Russia's aggression against Ukraine and suspected 2015 hacking of the German parliament was exacerbated last year by an alleged Moscow-hired killer's role in a Berlin murder and in August by the poisoning of Kremlin critic Alexei Navalny, who is recovering in Germany after being flown there for emergency care.

"We really value your contribution to maintaining our relationship, which needs a rethink and, perhaps, what is now commonly called a reset," Mr Lavrov told Tino Chrupalla, co-chairman of the AfD, which wants closer ties with Russia, an end to EU sanctions on Moscow and completion of the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline between Russia and Germany.

Mr Lavrov said “many serious problems have built up, which continue to multiply” and argued for maintaining a wide range of Russian-German contacts at a testing time for bilateral relations.


He also expressed surprise at what he called the “hysterical” reaction in Germany to the deputies’ visit, and claimed that Moscow never tried to stop German officials meeting Russian opposition figures.

That seemed to be a nod to Mr Navalny, who was evacuated to Berlin after becoming critically ill on a flight in Siberia. Laboratories in Germany, France and Sweden, and then the global Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, found traces of the Novichok nerve agent in his blood samples.

Moscow denied he was a victim of foul play, but Germany and France said those claims were not “credible” and concluded “there is no other plausible explanation for Mr Navalny’s poisoning than Russian involvement and responsibility”.

Incendiary Lavrov claim

The EU imposed sanctions on six senior Russian officials over their alleged involvement in the case, prompting Moscow to announce tit-for-tat measures against German and French officials.

“We have reason to assume that whatever happened to him, concerning the toxic substance in his body, could have happened to him in Germany or on the plane where he was loaded and sent to the [Berlin] clinic,” said Mr Lavrov last month, without offering evidence for his incendiary claim.

Germany and Russia expelled two of each other’s diplomats last year, after an alleged Moscow-hired assassin was arrested over the murder in a Berlin park of a Georgian man who fought for Chechen rebels against Russian troops in the 1990s.

When the trial began in October, German prosecutors said Vadim Krasikov had been contracted by "agencies of the central government of the Russian Federation" to kill Zelimkhan Khangoshvili. The accused denies involvement.

Russian president Vladimir Putin has described Khangoshvili as a "bloody killer", but insists Moscow played no role in the murder.

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin

Daniel McLaughlin is a contributor to The Irish Times from central and eastern Europe