BERLIN (Reuters) - Germany has close economic ties with Russia and could use this leverage to pressure President Vladimir Putin over Moscow's involvement in Syria, its defence minister said on Wednesday.
Escalating military action in Syria's northern Idlib region, where Russia is backing an offensive by President Bashar al-Assad's army and Turkey is supporting rebels, risks direct confrontation between the two major foreign powers.
German Defence Minister Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer told RTL/n-tv private television that Germany had broad commercial ties with Russia and had already used sanctions in the Ukrainian conflict to show that Russia cannot get away with everything.
"And this is the question now which also needs to be raised regarding Syria," she said, noting that Germany must show Russia that "we are pretty much aware of what it is doing in Syria."
Russia's support for Syria's armed forces has been instrumental in turning the war in favour of Assad.
Kramp-Karrenbauer repeated her proposal to set up safety zones in north Syria to protect civilians, adding that German Chancellor Angela Merkel was trying to convince Putin to support that. One million people have fled recent fighting in Idlib.
If all relevant players in the region backed the creation of such safety zones, German and other European forces could be asked to protect those areas, the German minister added.
But the most realistic scenario was a safety zone in which the United Nations and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE) would be in charge, she said.
Turkey's President Tayyip Erdogan and Russia's Putin were due to meet on Thursday to seek ways to stop the fighting.
Germany, Europe's largest economy, accounts for about 10% of Russia's imports and is also an important export market, mainly for Russia's natural gas and oil.
(Reporting by Michael Nienaber; Editing by Andrew Cawthorne)