Weimar summit: debt to be exchanged for stained-glass windows

The Russian-German summit finished in Weimar on April 10. This was the seventh meeting of Russian President Vladimir Putin with German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder over the past year. This demonstrates that the parties are continuing relations on a rather intensive level. And no wonder, as Germany is one of Russia’s key trade partners. It is also one of the main creditors to Russia.

The talks concerned mostly the repayment of the former USSR debts to the former German Democratic Republic. Germany says that the 6.5 billion conversion rubles of the debt (a conversion ruble is a virtual monetary unit used for calculations inside the Economic Mutual Aid Community. It is not connected with the actual currency rates) are to be considered the same amount in US dollars. Russia disagreed with the statement, as it considered the conversion ruble rate overvalued by several times.

In any case, disputes on the exact sum to be repaid by Russia lasted for several years. Moscow and Berlin stood their own grounds firmly. President Putin made Chancellor Schroeder change his mind. According to an agreement achieved by the two parties, Russia will have to pay 500 million euro to Germany. The German government will write off 500 million euro more through the Hermes fund, which the insures risks of German enterprises investing in Russian establishments. Berlin seems to be following the principle “a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush."

There is one more thing that concerns Germany. It has been offered several times already the chance of writing off a portion of Russia's debt in exchange for pieces of art removed from Germany by the Soviet Army after the WWII. Russia’s public opinion reacts negatively to the idea of returning caputured art to Germany, at least, until after Germany gives back valuables stolen from the Soviet Union during the war. Nowadays, the idea of trophy values (artwork) restitution in exchange for debt write-off is becoming more and more popular among Russia’s powers-that-be. On the eve of the summit the Federation Council, a law was passed, according to which the unique medieval stained-glass windows from the Marienkirche in Frankfurt an der Oder looted by the Soviet Army should be returned. Is the decision connected with Germany’s consent to compromise with Russia concerning the repayment of debt?

However, the problem of transferred art treasures is really complex in itself, as it requires thorough and laborious consideration in every particular case. In addition, Germany promised to assist in the restitution of art treasures looted from the USSR during the war. Why didn't Germany do this earlier?

The Russian-German summit also touched upon cooperation between Russia and NATO. It has become a tradition that President Putin is promised assistance in the establishment of closer cooperation with NATO every time he meets with leaders of foreign countries. Time will tell to what extent the promises are sincere. The visit to Weimar may be considered a success on the whole. Russia’s debt was reduced, and several partnership contracts between Russian and German businessmen to the sum of 1.5 billion euro were signed during the summit. This reveals that Russian-German relationships are developing steadily. The German Chancellor seems to have overcome his antipathy towards Russia he felt in the first days of his rule.

Vasily Bubnov PRAVDA.Ru

Photo from BBC archives

Translated by Maria Gousseva

Read the original in Russian: http://www.pravda.ru/main/2002/04/11/39576.html

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