Maas seeks 'frank discussion' in Russia on a number of conflicts

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas was set to visit Russia on Tuesday in a bid to clarify a number of issues that have further strained relations between Moscow and Berlin, dpa reported.

"Where there is a need for clarification, it is best to seek a frank discussion," Maas said in a statement prior to his departure.

"For this reason, I am travelling today to Russia for the first time since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic," he added.

Germany's top diplomat, who is scheduled to hold talks with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, said ahead of the trip that a suspected contract killing of a Georgian national in Berlin last year had damaged ties. The crime sparked a diplomatic storm between Germany and Russia, including the tit-for-tat expulsion of diplomats and threatened sanctions.

Maas said it was no secret that relations "ran into difficult waters" after the German attorney general accused the Russian government of being behind the crime - a charge that the Kremlin has denied.

"Cooperating with Russia is key in efforts to solve conflicts in eastern Ukraine, Libya and Syria," he said.

The visit also comes amid tensions surrounding the countries' Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline project, which has been rattling Germany's ties with the United States. The pipeline, under construction in the Baltic Sea, is to expand the capacity of an eponymous natural gas pipeline already in operation, carrying Russian-sourced gas directly to Germany, Europe's largest economy.

The US has imposed sanctions against the project, which is near completion, saying the pipeline will increase the European Union's dependence on Russia for the commodity. German officials have condemned the US sanctions, and some critics argue that the US opposes the new pipeline project because it wants to sell more of its liquefied natural gas to Europe.

Maas spoke with US counterpart Mike Pompeo at the weekend and expressed discontent over the threat of further US sanctions.

After the Moscow visit, Maas is to travel to St Petersburg to express respect for the victims of Nazi Germany's blockade of the city during World War II, his office said in a statement. Hundreds of thousands of people died during the more than two-year siege in 1941-44, largely because of starvation.

Maas' St Petersburg visit will be "dedicated to the memory of the survivors and victims of the German blockade," Germany's Foreign Office said.

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