Relations between Berlin and Moscow are strained to the breaking point following the mutual expulsion of diplomats. Germany is now ordering the closure of Russian diplomatic missions.
In response to the expulsion of hundreds of German officials from Russia, the federal government has banned Moscow from operating four consulates general in Germany. From the end of the year, Russia will only be allowed to operate the embassy in Berlin and another of the five consulates general so far, a spokesman for the Federal Foreign Office said on Wednesday in Berlin.
There are Russian Consulates General in Bonn, Frankfurt, Hamburg, Leipzig and Munich. The spokesman made it clear that Russia would decide for itself which of these would be retained. For Russians in Germany, there are fewer contact points to apply for new passports, for example.
Moscow announces reaction
Russian Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova announced an early response. In a conversation with the German Press Agency over the weekend, she had already threatened further countermeasures to possible German steps. Zakharova had repeatedly accused the federal government of anti-Russian policies. Not Moscow, but Berlin started the “hostile actions,” she said. Every step taken by Germany forces Russia to take a counter-step.
Berlin, on the other hand, defended the further deterioration of the situation. The Russian government has “taken a step of escalation” by limiting the total German presence in Russia to 350 people. “And this unjustified decision is forcing the federal government to make very significant cuts in all areas of its presence in Russia,” said the ministry spokesman. The federal government has decided to close the German consulates general in Kaliningrad, Yekaterinburg and Novosibirsk.
A minimal presence of cultural mediators – for example at the German school in Moscow and at the Goethe Institute – should be maintained. The German Embassy in Moscow and the Consulate General in Saint Petersburg would be maintained.
“For the Russian presence in Germany, our decision applies reciprocally in order to ensure a balance between the two sides, both in terms of personnel and structure. That is why we have decided to withdraw approval for the operation of four of the five Russian consulates general in Germany,” said the spokesman . “This was communicated to the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs today and Russia was requested to initiate the processing of the four consulates general in the Federal Republic of Germany immediately and to complete it by December 31, 2023 at the latest.”
Several hundred German civil servants have to leave the country
The reaction to the Russian action had been closely coordinated in the federal government, said government spokesman Steffen Hebestreit. The federal government had previously sharply criticized Moscow’s decision to introduce an upper limit for German civil servants in Russia.
The new Russian decision means that several hundred German civil servants such as diplomats, teachers and employees of the Goethe Institute have to leave Russia. The upper limit comes into force at the beginning of June and, in addition to the diplomatic service, primarily affects the cultural and educational sectors. Among other things, positions at the German School in Moscow and at the Goethe Institute in Russia have to be cut.
“Drastic cuts” for the Goethe-Institut
According to the Goethe-Institut, it has been active in Russia for 30 years with institutes in Moscow and Saint Petersburg and in Novosibirsk since 2009. About 20 language learning centers and around 10,000 German teachers with almost two million German students are looked after. Since the start of the Russian attack on Ukraine, cooperation with government agencies has been halted, language courses and exams have continued to be offered.
From the point of view of the President of the Goethe-Institut, Carola Lentz, the request for reduction “entails drastic cuts in all areas of the work of our three institutes”. She sees it as a “tearing down of the last civil society bridges”. Secretary General Johannes Ebert announced that “even with a reduced presence, we will support the quality of German classes and German exams and remain a place for open exchange – albeit with limited space”.
The institutes in Moscow and Saint Petersburg should continue to work and the libraries, for example, should remain open. In Novosibirsk, the premises would have to be given up, it said. A contact point will be set up there.
Representations already greatly thinned out
In the course of their serious tensions in the past, Germany and Russia have repeatedly expelled each other’s diplomats. The representations are already thinning out, the services for German citizens are reduced or are associated with longer waiting times, for example when documents are issued. The situation worsened significantly with the start of the Russian war against Ukraine.
With the decision, the federal government is making it clear that Germany can also pull other strings. The Russian leadership is seen as the driver of this escalation. However, the Federal Government also makes it clear that a further escalation should not be promoted. “From the point of view of the federal government, this issue has now been completed with the personnel and structural parity of the presences,” said the spokesman for the Federal Foreign Office on Wednesday.
Russia, on the other hand, sees relations strained to the breaking point. “The federal government made a conscious decision to destroy bilateral relations by destroying or completely paralyzing within a few months a unique body of institutions and mechanisms for dialogue and mutually beneficial cooperation that had been built up by several generations of politicians, citizens and diplomats from both countries.” , said Zakharova. However, she failed to mention that Russia itself has declared numerous German non-governmental organizations “undesirable” and has thus practically banned them.
I have been working in the news industry for over 6 years, first as a reporter and now as an editor. I have covered politics extensively, and my work has appeared in major newspapers and online news outlets around the world. In addition to my writing, I also contribute regularly to 24 Hours World.