How can we understand German-Russian relations since German
reunification? Both the geopolitical positions of the two states and the political
and economic ties between them have been transformed over the past twentyfive
years. This paper will argue, however, that the role of the two countries’
leaders in shaping these relations has been surprisingly important. Building on
the tradition of “first image” analysis in international relations, this paper
shows that, along with larger political and economic trends, personal relations
between these leaders have helped to set the tenor of bilateral ties. When the
leaders were able to build trust and personal friendships, relations improved.
Yet more recently, since 2012, relations have soured sharply. While there are
obviously larger reasons for this, more negative personal ties between leaders
have also played an important role. In short, just as issues of trust and friendship
matter in personal ties, they also matter in International Relations.