Better late than never? Schröder’s Russian ties become a hot topic in the German elections

17.08.2017 – Leo Mausbach

Ex-chancellor Gerhard Schröder’s connections to Putin’s Russia are becoming a serious problem for the German social democrats, who are struggling in the end game of the election campaign. Not many are convinced by Martin Schulz’ claim that Schröder’s engagement in a Russian state-owned company was a private issue.

Gerhard Schröder has been nominated by the Kremlin to become a board member of Rosneft, Russia’s main state-owned oil company and a substantial part of Putin’s system of power. Rosneft is also the target of sanctions against Russian companies that were imposed by the European Union after the annexation of Crimea.

The friendly personal ties to Vladimir Putin stem from Schröder’s years as German chancellor. Right after he lost the elections to Angela Merkel in 2005, Gerhard Schröder became board member of the Russian-German Nord Stream consortium. As chancellor, he had promoted the pipeline project himself and he later became involved in its expansion NordStream 2 as well. This way, Schröder has been affiliated with Russian companies for the past twelve years.

Since Schröder’s plans to join Rosneft became public, a wave of criticism hit the former chancellor from all sides. The green “taz” discerns “an incredible lack of principle” [1] and anticipates a “catastrophe for the SPD”, the German social democratic party. The country’s main tabloid, the “BILD”, labels Schröder’s behavior as “unpatriotic” [2], while the conservative “Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung” calls it a „disgrace“ [3]. The influential Berlin newspaper “Der Tagesspiegel” urges the social democrats to dissociate themselves from their former chairman [4]. Even the left-liberal “Süddeutsche Zeitung”, traditionally close to the SPD, depicts the former chancellor as the Kremlin’s “lever” on German and European politics and calls for the social democrats to break up with Schröder [5].

The SPD’s candidate for chancellor Martin Schulz already distanced himself, reassuring that he “wouldn’t do that”, but simultaneously claiming that the move was a private decision made by Gerhard Schröder [6]. The scandal hurts the social democrats especially, since Gerhard Schröder had only recently returned to the political stage to publicly support Schulz’ electoral campaign. The public pressure on the social democrats is still growing.

Schröder himself, however, shows no understanding for the public criticism and instead sees a conspiracy at work. In his eyes, the attacks are only a means to help Angela Merkel win the elections. Regardless of the accusations, he announced to continue running for Rosneft’s board.

 

[1] Schulte, Ulrich: “Putins gekaufter Einfluss”. TAZ, August 16, 2017.

[2] Reichelt, Julian: „Unpatriotisch“. BILD, August 16, 2017.

[3] Kohler, Berthold: „In Putins Diensten“. Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, August 16, 2017.

[4] Sauerbrey, Anna: „Weder ‚Privatsache‘ noch ‚Privatwirtschaft‘“. Der Tagesspiegel, August 15, 2017.

[5] Hans, Julian: “Kanzler als Hebel“. Süddeutsche Zeitung, August 15, 2017.

[6] Martin Schulz, on facebook. August 15, 2017: https://www.facebook.com/martinschulz/posts/10155187911958462

[7] Zeit-Online, “Schröder verteidigt seine Rosneft-Ambitionen”. August 17, 2017.