Bavarian Premier Horst Seehofer on Wednesday called for an easing of Ukraine-related sanctions against Russia "in due course," ahead of a controversial meeting with President Vladimir Putin at his residence outside Moscow.
"We want to make an honest contribution to the rebuilding of trust and normality in a difficult political environment," the head of German Chancellor Angela Merkel's Bavarian sister party said later during his talks with Putin.
Both rejected suggestions that Seehofer's visit undermined Merkel, who has played in a leading role in international efforts to resolve the conflict between government forces and pro-Russian rebels in eastern Ukraine.
"We're not playing power games," Seehofer said.
Instead, the two emphasised the close economic ties between Russia and the southern German state of Bavaria.
Twenty per cent of German-Russian trade was with Bavaria, while 50 per cent of all German investment in Russia originated in the state, Putin said, noting that he considered Seehofer a "special guest."
Bavarian business representatives welcomed the talks.
"The dialogue must not stop. Russia is a very important trading partner for us," the head of the Association of the Bavarian Economy, Bertram Brossardt, told dpa.
The sanctions had harmed many businesses in Bavaria without changing the political situation, he added.
On his flight to Moscow earlier, Seehofer had defended his decision to hold talks with Putin despite widespread criticism in Germany, saying it was his "duty as prime minister to represent Bavarian interests.
Seehofer has become a thorn in Chancellor Merkel's side in recent months, criticizing her stance on migration and her refusal to ease sanctions against Russia.
Putin's relations with Germany have soured considerably over Moscow's role in the Ukraine crisis and - more recently - over its position on the Syrian civil war.
"It speaks for itself that Seehofer wants closer ties to those seeking to damage and divide Europe and are mobilizing against humane migration policies," Anton Hofreiter, parliamentary leader for the Green party, told regional newspaper Neue Osnabruecker Zeitung.
"Foreign policy is made in Berlin, not in Munich," Social Democrat lawmaker Niels Annen told German newspaper Die Welt on the weekend.
Wednesday, February 3, 2016 - 13:06
Friday, February 12, 2016 - 06:00