Sigmar Gabriel is not my favorite German politician (I don't have one), but he occasionally makes some reasonable remarks. When the subject is Russia, however, the German MSM are as stubbornly impervious to common sense, not to mention journalistic integrity, as their counterparts in the US and the UK.
On March 15 Gabriel, having just vacated the office of Foreign Minister, gave a speech at the German-Russian Forum in Berlin. I don't know much about what he said because I wasn't there, but fortunately a Mr. Vitzthum from Die Welt was (or was he?), who describes it as a "nasty reckoning" with the (reelected) Merkel government. This is not so much because Gabriel suggested that sanctions were not the best way to deal with the Crimea issue, since he also said so as Foreign Minister, but because of what he said about the Skripal incident.
Somebody working for the German edition of the Huffington Post whose German -- or intelligence, or both -- is not up to the job read the story in Die Welt and reported it as saying that Gabriel "defended Vladimir Putin and Russia" by saying that "Someone is innocent until the opposite is proven."
The newsweekly Focus, in a wandering article curiously titled "The Skripal Affair Shows Gabriel That He Has Learned Nothing from His Past," doesn't even mention Gabriel until the sixth paragraph (of seven), where it becomes clear that "his past" refers to his opposition to the sanctions -- as if that were something to be ashamed of. It also accuses him of "defending Putin." For visual relief there is a photo of Gabriel and Putin smiling at each other, though Putin was not at the meeting that was the ostensible subject of the article.
So what did Gabriel actually say in Berlin? Hard to tell from these articles, and I have not seen it covered elsewhere. The Forum promises to post a transcription but it hasn't appeared yet.
Oh, wait. There is one more "source," if you want to call it that. I refer to RT Deutsch, the German counterpart of RT.com, that dastardly purveyor of False News and Russian Propaganda. They had the gall to publish not only an accurate summary but an actual video of Gabriel's remarks about the Skripal event! Reader beware. Fearing yet another Ruskie trick, I transcribed the video and translated it myself:
"We are currently experiencing, of course, with the attack on a man who was formerly, so I read at any rate, a double agent in the UK, one of the worst escalations we have had recently, and of course I understand every British citizen who, being told this was a chemical weapon of war developed in the Soviet Union, thinks first that if it was developed there, and if it was produced in former member states of the Soviet Union, and if it involves a Russian double agent, then there may be evidence that this weapon may have come from Russia.
"However, I would recommend that we not allow ourselves, as Germans and Europeans, to be driven into an increasingly shrill public debate. There is in our country, which is based on the rule of law [Rechtsstaat], a relatively simple but effective way to settle legal questions, and that is that someone is innocent until a court has proved the contrary. This presumption of innocence should not push aside the British concerns, or push aside the scandal, which of course it is, of using a chemical weapon of war to kill a person. But this is the way to solve the problem. The way to solve the problem can only be to let the international bodies that we have investigate the case and then present the evidence. We are all members of a UN organization whose purpose is to control and destroy chemical weapons [the OPCW], and I think the wisest thing is to allow this institution to investigate, using all the evidence, and then after the investigation, not before, determine what political conclusions we should draw from it.
"This does not reduce the scandal of what has happened, or ignore the British concerns, but it prevents what I think is probably the worst poison in international relations, and that is this spiral of mutual suspicion and strange stories, whereby one side develops the most bizarre ideas about why one side might have done this or the other side that, and you feel like you're in the middle of a very bad James Bond film where both sides have no other goal than to pursue their own conspiracy theory. I think the only way to counter this is to actually do what we do in criminal cases, which is to allow an institution specially created for this purpose to investigate it, gather all the evidence, and then say what conclusions should be drawn.
"Why do I advocate such a careful and reasonable German attitude? Because we know from our own history how quickly national narratives can be used against each other. Because we know from our own history that in the end it is the civilian population that pays the price for such developments, in the worst case with their health and with their lives. And furthermore because we know that such confrontations will always end up, if it comes to that, taking place in the Federal Republic of Germany and in Europe."
This is what Die Welt calls a "nasty reckoning" with Merkel et al. and HuffPost and Focus call "defending Putin."
I call it common sense, uncommon enough in today's environment.