"Civil society participation as an opportunity for German-Russian understanding" is the motto of the 16th Petersburg Dialogue on 23 and 24 November in Berlin.
In her written message of welcome to the dialogue, Chancellor Angela Merkel pointed to the major importance of German-Russian relations. Because of its historical importance for both countries, Berlin is a particularly appropriate venue, she said.
Frank discussion needed
Against the backdrop of the tensions in bilateral relations since the conflict in Ukraine first erupted, the Chancellor stressed, "Germany is interested in wide-ranging and reliable relations with Russia. For this we need frank and open discussion – especially when times are difficult."
The Petersburg Dialogue underlines the interest in achieving "robust German-Russian relations in the best interests of both sides". She is very grateful for the engagement of all those who share this concern, and "play an active part in an open exchange of views", stressed Angela Merkel.
Civil society dialogue in the form of the Petersburg Dialogue, which offers a broad forum for discussion with its various working groups, thus enjoys a very high status.
This is the first time that the Petersburg Dialogue has been held in Berlin. About 250 German and Russian representatives of the business sector, the research community and the cultural sphere are attending. This civil society forum was founded in 2001 by the then Chancellor Gerhard Schröder and the Russian President Vladimir Putin. The current Chairperson is Ronald Pofalla, former Head of the Federal Chancellery.
Opportunity to improve relations?
In the run-up to this year’s meeting, Ronald Pofalla, Chairperson of the Petersburg Dialogue expressed scepticism that relations between Germany and Russia could be improved. Speaking on the German public broadcaster ZDF, he said that Germany is currently in a phase of controversy with Moscow. Until there is peace in eastern Ukraine, he added, the two countries cannot move closer together at political level.