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Head of Germany’s Russophile business lobby group resigns

BERLIN — The head of Germany’s business lobby group Committee on Eastern European Economic Relations, Oliver Hermes, on Tuesday announced that he would step down from his position.

Hermes, who is also CEO of Dortmund-based pumps manufacturer Wilo, served as the so-called East Committee’s chairman for three years, with the aim of furthering business ties between Germany and Eastern European countries, including Russia.

Hermes cited the more challenging business environment brought about by Russia’s war on Ukraine as the reason for his resignation.

“Not only geopolitically, but also economically, companies are facing a turning point,” he said in a press release in which he also condemned the war but maintained that “mutual economic dependencies … potentially contribute to de-escalation.”

The lobby group, which exerts significant influence on German politics and business, for years supported close ties with Russia and — up until the invasion of Ukraine in February — turned a blind eye to the Kremlin’s territorial aggressions and Russian President Vladimir Putin’s violation of human rights and international rules.

When Putin critic Alexei Navalny was poisoned with a nerve agent in 2020, Hermes warned against further sanctions against Russia. “We can’t allow this case to develop into a long-term strain on our bilateral relations and further constrain German-Russian economic ties,” he said while the Russian opposition leader was treated in a Berlin hospital.

The East Committee was far from alone: German business leaders have long nurtured close ties with Russia for economic reasons, with the government also supporting a policy of Wandel durch Handel, or political change through trade, until it all collapsed with the onset of the war, discrediting swaths of so-called Putinversteher — Putin apologists — overnight.

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