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Berlin and Moscow to meet over Ukraine in January

A German government official said Saturday that Berlin and Moscow had agreed to a meeting in an attempt to ease political relations over Ukraine "in early January".

Russian military troops take part in a military drill on Sernovodsky polygon close to the Chechnya border,
Russia said Saturday more than 10,000 troops had finished month-long drills near Ukraine. AFP PHOTO / SERGEY VENYAVSKY

German leader Olaf Scholz and Russian leader Vladimir Putin in a phone call Thursday agreed to the meeting between the chancellor’s diplomatic adviser, Jens Ploetner, and the Kremlin’s pointman, Dmitry Kozak.

In an interview on Friday, a senior Ukrainian security official told AFP that there was no risk of an imminent Russian invasion.

This came as Russia announced on Saturday that more than 10,000 troops had finished month-long drills near Ukraine, amid Western accusations that Moscow was plotting an invasion of its ex-Soviet neighbour.

The defence ministry said in a statement that the drills for Southern Military District forces had taken place in a host of southern regions including Rostov, Krasnodar and Crimea, which Moscow seized from Ukraine in 2014.

But the drills also took place further afield, including in Stavropol, Astrakhan, North Caucasus republics and even in Russia’s Caucasus ally Armenia.

The defence ministry said the troops were returning to their permanent bases and that stand-by units would be readied for the New Year’s holidays.

Western countries have accused Russia of massing upwards of 100,000 troops near Ukraine ahead of a possible winter invasion.

According to Kiev’s estimates, the number of Russian troops along Ukraine’s borders has increased from around 93,000 troops in October to 104,000 now.

Russia says it is free to move its forces on its territory how it sees fit and denies that it is planning a large-scale attack.

It has presented the West with sweeping security demands, saying NATO must not admit new members and seeking to bar the United States from establishing new bases in former Soviet republics.

Kiev has been battling pro-Russia separatists since shortly after Moscow annexed Crimea in 2014 in a conflict that has claimed over 13,000 lives.

The West has long accused the Kremlin of providing direct military support to pro-Russia separatists in eastern Ukraine. Russia denies the claims.

READ ALSO: Russian gas must not be ‘weapon’ against Ukraine: German Chancellor Merkel

 

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UKRAINE

Germany’s Schröder to remain in Social Democrats despite Putin ties

Former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder will remain a member of the ruling Social Democrats (SPD), the party said Monday, finding his ties with Vladimir Putin did not breach its rules.

Germany's Schröder to remain in Social Democrats despite Putin ties

The SPD’s Hanover branch said Schröder, whose party membership falls under its umbrella, was “not guilty of a violation of the party rules, as no violation can be proven against him”.

The branch had opened a hearing in July to discuss 17 motions from local and regional chapters against Schroeder’s ongoing membership of the party.

The decision can be appealed, but legal experts say there are high hurdles for expelling members.

Schröder, chancellor from 1998 to 2005, has refused to turn his back on Putin despite Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

His stance has made him an embarrassment to the SPD, which is also the party of Chancellor Olaf Scholz.

READ ALSO: Germany’s Social Democrats move to dispel Schröder over Putin ties

He has also been widely criticised for holding a number of lucrative posts at Russian energy giants, and it was only after much public pressure that Schröder in May gave up his seat on the board of Russian energy group Rosneft.

He later also announced he would not be joining Gazprom’s supervisory board as initially planned.

Germany’s parliament in May removed some of the perks Schröder was entitled to as an elder statesman, stripping him of an office and staff.

Schröder, 78, who was Angela Merkel’s immediate predecessor, has remained defiant and met with Putin in Moscow in July.

In an interview after the visit, he claimed Russia wanted a “negotiated solution” to the war – comments branded as “disgusting” by Ukrainian
President Volodymyr Zelensky.

Schröder has also called on Berlin to reconsider its position on the Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, which stands completed but was blocked by the German government in the run-up to the invasion of Ukraine.

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