A very interesting if not controversial article from Luke Harding makes the argument that we are seeing continuity in foreign policy toward Russia under both Gerhard Schröder and Angela Merkel. In my experience, the change has been night and day in terms of getting high level politicians willing to talk about human rights issues (just look at Sabine Leutheusser-Schnarrenberger), though Harding does make a good point that this has not produced any concrete or measurable changes on the ground or any visible political costs of the relationship. He has a point, but my response would be that we should wait and see.
During her first visit to Russia as chancellor, in January 2006, Merkel made a point of meeting human rights activists – an apparent break with the sleazy Schröder era. She also promised to visit Warsaw (though she never actually got there) in an attempt to assuage the unhappy Poles and Baltic states over Nord Stream. And though I can’t vouch for their private conversations, it seems unlikely that Volodya and Angie use the “Du” form with each other.
In reality, however, Germany’s Russian policy under Merkel hasn’t changed — and is simply a more sober form of Schröderism. This isn’t surprising. Schröder’s former chief of staff, Franz-Walter Steinmeier, the architect of Schröder’s pro-Russian foreign policy, has spent the past four years sitting in Germany’s grand coalition government as Merkel’s foreign minister. A fierce opponent of all attempts to “isolate” Russia, Steinmeier is now her rival for the chancellorship.