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Wednesday, September 30, 1998 Published at 10:04 GMT 11:04 UK

Germany-Russia: End Of An Era?

Best friends: Now relations could be more strained

By Russian Analyst Tom de Waal

The defeat of Helmut Kohl in the German elections marks the end of an era in Russo-German elections.

Russian leaders have always had their favourite Western politicians, whom they relied upon in times of crisis. Mikhail Gorbachev had a good relationship with Margaret Thatcher.

Boris Yeltsin's soul-mate in the West was the German Chancellor, Helmut Kohl.

[ image: Boris Yeltsin enjoying German hospitality]
Boris Yeltsin enjoying German hospitality
The two were alike not only in size. Both came from ordinary provincial backgrounds to conquer the heights of national politics; both preferred to talk about the broad politics of nation-building rather than the details of economic policy.

A warm relationship between the two leaders developed over several "sauna summits" and strolls in the German countryside or by Lake Baikal.

The two talked frequently on the telephone and called each other "friend".

No more 'Special Relationship'

During the election campaign the man who is to be the new German Chancellor, Gerhard Schröder, took the unusual step of casting doubt on President Yeltsin's ability to rule.

Mr Schröder said that the Russian president could no longer provide the stability which he had in the past.

This was an implicit attack on Mr Kohl's Russia policy and his intimacy with Mr Yeltsin. Germany, Mr Schröder seemed to be saying, had been burned by the Chancellor's uncritical loyalty to a man who had failed to prevent economic chaos in which German investors had lost billions of dollars.

Fallout fears

Germany has certainly suffered more than any Western country from the Russian financial crisis. A quarter of Russia's foreign trade is with Germany.

German banks had lent more than $18 billion to Russia and some, like Westdeutsche Landesbank, are in severe trouble as a result.

That only makes the idea of spending more money in Russia extremely unpopular with the German tax-payer, when the German economy is weaker than it has been for years.

If Germany under Mr Schröder becomes, as is being predicted, more inward-looking, then bold economic initiatives with Russia will become less of a priority.

Political reactions

The leader of the Russian Communist Party, Gennady Zyuganov, welcomed Mr Schröder's election, saying that it was part of a "leftward shift" in European politics.

In actual fact the Marxist-turned-nationalist Mr Zyuganov and the right-wing social democrat Mr Schröder have almost nothing in common.

Under the new Chancellor Germany will need to remain closely engaged with the Russian government -- but the "special relationship" between the countries' leaders has gone.

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In this section

At a glance: German election coverage

Schröder grabs the centre ground

Schröder on 'historic' election

Kohl steps into history books

Kohl concedes defeat

Greens negotiate a path to power

Green party: Joschka Fischer

The great European love triangle

Disquiet on the eastern front

Germany-Russia: End Of An Era?