Germany’s largest political party has asked former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder to surrender his membership card because of his long-standing ties to major Russian energy companies.
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Since leaving office in 2005, the former center-left Social Democratic Party (SPD) leader has worked at a variety of state-backed Russian companies. But when other former leaders hastily cut ties with Moscow after invading Ukraine, Schroeder made it clear he had no intention of doing the same.
In a rare interview published by The New York Times (NYT) Schröder was “as defiant as ever” and did not criticize either Vladimir Putin, whom he considers a personal friend, or his own behavior. He told the newspaper, “I don’t do mea culpa, that’s not my thing.”
Speaking to the NYT, Schröder dismissed it documented atrocities by Russian troops in Ukraine, on the grounds that “this needs to be investigated”. He added that he doesn’t believe these orders came directly from Vladimir Putin, “but from a subordinate authority.”
“I think this war was a mistake and I’ve always said that,” said Schröder. “What we need to do now is make peace as soon as possible.”
In the country he used to rule, “public opinion has now largely crystallized against him,” he said The Independent. And even members of the SPD sharply reprimanded him.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz, also an SPD member, called on Schröder to resign from Russian state-backed energy companies in March, a week after Putin gave the green light for the invasion. And after Schroeder’s comments to the NYT, said Saskia Esken, one of two co-chairs of the SPD Radio Deutschlandfunk that his membership in the party was untenable.
“He’s been acting just as a businessman for many years, and we should stop looking at him as an elder statesman, as a former chancellor,” Esken said. “He earns his money working for Russian state companies.”
Schröder’s entire office staff resigned from their posts financial times (FT) reported that he had been stripped of his honorary citizenship in his hometown of Hanover, “a punishment that he most recently imposed posthumously on Adolf Hitler.”
Schröder took his first job at a Russian-backed company almost immediately after his 2005 election defeat by Angela Merkel. Just 17 days after leaving office, he received a call on his cellphone from “his friend” Putin, the NYT said.
The Russian President asked him to do so chairs Nord Stream’s Shareholders’ Committee, the Russian-controlled company responsible for building the first subsea gas pipeline connecting Russia and Germany directly. Putin is said to have joked: “Are you afraid to work for us?”
And he “might well have been,” the paper said, “given the semblance of possible impropriety — the pipeline he was to lead now had been agreed with his strong support in the last few weeks of his chancellorship.” As the NYT adds, “He took the job anyway.”
Schröder “spoke publicly about his desire to earn money after leaving politics,” he said The times, and was added to his list in 2017 when he became a part-time independent director of Russian oil company Rosneft. At the time, the company was under western sanctions imposed on Russia annexation of Crimea.
Schröder’s allies say his role is “emblematic” of the “decades-long politics of the SPD”. Commitment to rapprochement with Russiasaid the FT. The policy is known as Ostpolitikwhich means “Ostpolitik”, and began in the early 1970s under SPD Chancellor Willy Brandt.
But his motives are also “deeply personal,” the newspaper continued. Schröder had “formed a friendship” with Putin from his early days as Federal Chancellor “that has lasted to this day”.
At the time, Schröder’s “stilted knowledge of English prevented close relationships with other world leaders.” But Putin, a former KGB agent stationed in East Germany, was fluent in German. The couple quickly developed what one biographer called “a little bit.” fraternization [fraternity]’ the paper added.
The two men’s families previously spent Christmas together and were photographed together on a sleigh ride in Moscow in 2001. Schröder also “notoriously” celebrated his 70th birthday with Putin in St Petersburg, The Times said, “just weeks after Russia’s previous attack on Ukraine in 2014”.
Leave the light on
According to the NYT, Schröder’s “entanglement” with Putin and Russian energy companies “overshadowed everything he achieved in seven years as chancellor.”
During “a pivotal period of leadership,” he received praise for refusing to join the US in the Iraq war, paving a clear path to citizenship for immigrants, and “enacting sweeping labor market reforms that would pave the way for a decade of growth.” .
And while Schröder’s behavior is now being criticized, Germany’s dependence on Russian energy largely unchallenged within the country for the past two decades, although “America and its other allies have repeatedly expressed concern,” according to The Times.
When Russian gas is used, everyone in Germany is on board, Schröder claimed in his interview with the NYT. “They’ve all been involved for the past 30 years,” he said. “But suddenly everyone knows better.”
https://www.theweek.co.uk/news/world-news/956546/who-is-gerhard-schroder-german-chancellor-turned-vladimir-putin-man Gerhard Schröder: The German ex-chancellor became Vladimir Putin’s husband