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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

German Ambassador Says Tchuß

MTVon Studnitz reflecting on his 6 1/2 years as Germany's ambassador to Russia.
German Ambassador Ernst-Jorg von Studnitz stepped down Sunday after 20 years of working on diplomatic issues connected with Russia and 6 1/2 years as his country's top man in Moscow.

Before leaving, however, he made it clear that his retirement would not spell an end to his involvement in Russian affairs.

First as director of the German Foreign Ministry's department of East European affairs from 1990 to 1995 and subsequently as ambassador, von Studnitz has been scrutinizing Russia for the whole post-Soviet period.

As ambassador, he has presided over relations with the Kremlin in a period when his homeland became Russia's No. 1 trading partner, Chancellor Helmut Kohl was succeeded by Gerhard Schroder and President Boris Yeltsin was succeeded by Vladimir Putin.

Despite the change in both countries' leadership, however, von Studnitz said in an interview Friday that Berlin's policy toward Moscow had barely changed since he took office.

"Accents have changed, personal relationships have changed, but the general outlook is uncontroversial," he said.

"We know that we need Russia as our partner. The main reason is that we want stability in this large part of the world."

One issue that has absorbed von Studnitz's attention recently is Kaliningrad's impending isolation within an expanded European Union.

A suggestion by Putin that visa-free transit corridors be created between Kaliningrad and the rest of Russia is a "non-starter," he said, although he believes that diplomacy and innovative approaches should enable a solution to be found.

"I believe that if you sit down and really want to solve a problem like access to Kaliningrad that you can do it in two or three months," von Studnitz said, adding that even such a complex issue such as how to schedule the return of Soviet troops stationed in former East Germany was resolved in just six weeks in 1990.

Von Studnitz said German relations with Russia were defined mainly by economic issues, in contrast to the U.S.-Russian relationship.

"In the Russian-American relationship there are big strategic questions," he said. "They play a predominant role that they do not play in German-Russian relations because there is a disparity of [military] forces.

"On the other hand, our economic relationship with Russia plays an enormous role. We are by far the largest trading partner of Russia with a little more than 10 percent of Russia's total trade turnover."

According to the German Embassy web site, this reached 48.46 billion Deutschemarks (about $25 billion) in 2001.

"We have more than 2,200 German firms working in Russia," von Studnitz said. "There is no country that can equal this high figure."

Nevertheless, the Russian-German relationship is not only characterized by business and economic relations, but by a strong cultural bond, he said.

"It [the cultural bond] is probably more prominent in our relationship than with any other country in the world," he said.

Asked what his advice he had for his successor, Hans-Friedrich von Ploetz, the current German ambassador to Britain, von Studnitz said "to be as open-minded as possible."

"This is a difficult country and you cannot come to this country with any preconceived ideas," he said. "You have to see what is coming toward you, and then you have to try to find creative solutions."

As of Monday, von Studnitz will take up the post of treasurer of the German-Russian Forum, a position that will give him the opportunity to continue to visit Russia.

"I want that. You know, after more than 20 years of your professional life involved with Russia you don't close the door and go away," he said.