New German Foreign Minister on 1st Moscow visit
Moscow: Germany's new Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle emphasised strong relations with Russia during his first visit to Moscow on Friday, but remained discreet on human rights issues.
"Russia is the most important strategic partner for us, beyond the eastern borders of the European Union", said Westerwelle at a press conference following talks with Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov.
"The German government wants to pursue without restrictions the strategic partnership with Russia. We are convinced that it will benefit not only our two countries, but equally the whole international community", added Westerwelle, appointed following legislative elections in September.
Westerwelle said he did not raise the issue of former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky, ex-head of Yukos, whose fraud trial is deemed political by defenders of human rights and whose case has been brought up several times in Germany.
"We did not discuss it. Our position on this subject is known", Westerwelle said, without further comment on the case.
In 2006 Westerwelle, then on the opposition as chairman of the Free Democratic Party, had written to Chancellor Angela Merkel denouncing Khodorkovsky's conditions of detention.
The Yukos affair began in 2003 and was criticised by Russian liberals and international commentators, who argued it was initiated by the Russian government to recover state control over precious oil assets, and bring into line a businessman deemed too independent and showing political ambitions.