• Christian Democrat says Steinmeier risks ‘glee’ in Moscow
  • German coalition airs public dispute over stance toward Putin

German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s party criticized her foreign minister for portraying NATO military maneuvers close to Russia’s border as warmongering, exposing a dispute within her coalition over how to deal with President Vladimir Putin.

“It’s Russia, not western nations, that needs to contribute more to rebuild trust,” Juergen Hardt, the foreign-policy spokesman of Merkel’s parliamentary faction, said in a statement on Sunday. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier’s comments in a newspaper interview could lead to “misunderstandings or even glee in Moscow,” he said.

With a general election due in Germany next year, the public disagreement reflects growing tension within Merkel’s coalition over how to deal with the armed conflict in eastern Ukraine. Steinmeier, whose Social Democrats are junior partner to Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union, is urging flexibility in easing economic sanctions on Russia. Merkel has insisted that Putin fully comply with a peace deal reached last year in Minsk, Belarus, before any penalties can be lifted.

The rebuttal by Merkel’s faction came after Steinmeier told Bild am Sonntag that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization maneuvers in Poland and the Baltic risked raising tension with Russia when dialogue and cooperation are what’s needed.

“What we shouldn’t do is inflame the situation further with loud saber-rattling and war cries,” the Sunday newspaper quoted him as saying in an interview.

Military personnel from the U.S.-led alliance’s 28 member countries, including German troops, this month held the first large-scale maneuvers in the region in about a decade. Members are due to finalize plans for strengthening NATO’s military presence in eastern Europe at a summit in Warsaw, the Polish capital, on June 8-9. The plan includes stationing about 4,000 troops in Poland and the Baltic states as a signal that NATO would defend member states against Russian aggression.

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