10:27 Oct. 19, 2016
Russian aggression in Syria has divided Merkel's coalition government. The chancellor isn't opposed to more sanctions, but the Social Democrats favour a conciliatory approach
On the day of his return from the United Nations General Assembly in New York on the last Monday in September, German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier met with German Chancellor Angela Merkel for lunch. They talked for two hours, but their discussion was dominated by one single issue: Germany's relationship with Russia -- or, to be more precise, what remains of that relationship.
In meetings held on the sidelines of the General Assembly, Steinmeier became aware just how little interest Russia has in a peaceful resolution of the conflict in Syria. Even as he and other Western diplomats were doing all they could to get the Russians to the negotiating table, Russian bombs were falling on Aleppo and perhaps even on a UN aid convoy. Such actions stand "in direct contradiction to Russian claims that it supports a diplomatic solution," Steinmeier complained in concert with his counterparts from the US, France and Britain. The patience of the Western quintet -- a reference to the five leading countries involved in searching for a solution to the Syria crisis, made up of the US, Germany, France, Britain and Italy -- with Russia is "not unlimited," the German foreign minister said.
The patience of Steinmeier's party, the Social Democrats (SPD), by contrast, appears to be inexhaustible. Merkel, at least, didn't get the impression during her lunch with Steinmeier that he and his party, her junior coalition partner, would be prepared to take a more hardline approach to Russia. On the contrary.