Schröder embarrasses German socialists by questioning Putin’s responsibility for Ukraine massacres | International
Arrogance? Provocation? Temerity? The Germans wonder what has led former Chancellor Gerhard Schröder to grant an interview to The New York Times in which the 78-year-old Social Democrat defends Vladimir Putin, doubts the authorship of the atrocities in the Ukrainian city of Bucha and He steadfastly refuses to accept his guilt for having plunged the country into a pernicious energy dependency on Moscow. Between shame and indignation, politicians from all parties raise their hands to their heads. Especially in which Schröder is still active, the SPD. Saskia Esken, co-leader of the formation, has asked him to leave the Social Democratic militancy for his “absurd” public defense of Putin.
The interview, published this weekend, comes at a tremendously delicate moment for the party. The SPD has been trying for weeks to defend itself against accusations that it has been too close to Putin in recent decades, without realizing the danger, or putting on a blindfold so as not to see the risks of that relationship. Scholz, also a Social Democrat, is also facing growing pressure to authorize the delivery of heavy weapons to kyiv. His leadership is questioned both within the coalition with Greens and Liberals and on the street. Meanwhile, the conservative opposition is sharpening its knives: it wants to put a vote on sending tanks because it knows it could win.
No one embodies the era of miscalculation that has led to a Germany painfully dependent on Russian gas like former Chancellor Schröder. The man who led the country between 1998 and 2005 starred in one of the most shocking episodes of revolving doors that are remembered in Europe: just three weeks after leaving the Chancellery he became chairman of the shareholders’ meeting of Nord Stream AG, the consortium controlled by Moscow that was to build and operate a gas pipeline (the Nord Stream 1) that it had itself approved. Schröder has been Putin’s biggest lobbyist in Germany for years. Over time he has been accumulating positions in other Russian state companies. According to him New York Timesnow charges a million euros a year from them.
The invasion of Ukraine “is a mistake,” says the former foreign minister, but he refuses in the interview to criticize Putin, with whom he maintains a friendly relationship of several decades. He goes so far as to say that “it is necessary to investigate” what happened in Bucha, but he rejects that it was Putin’s decision and attributes it to lower commands. In his opinion, the close relations between the two countries should not end. “You can’t isolate a country like Russia in the long run, either politically or economically,” he says.
There is no self-criticism in his words: he says he did what was in Germany’s best interest. “I don’t sing the mea culpa It’s not my thing,” he says, later offering himself as a mediator: “At least one of the parties trusts me.” Last March, with the invasion underway, the former foreign minister made a controversial trip to Russia to, as he said, act as an intermediary with the Russian president. Little or nothing is known about that visit, except that it did not bear fruit, and that he did not alert his party colleague Scholz that he was going to meet with Putin.
Schröder has been a pariah in Berlin for months, ever since, days before the invasion of Ukraine began, he began suggesting that kyiv was to blame for Putin’s reaction, because he was provoking. But now it is a prestigious international media that shows the whole world that there is a former German chancellor who defends the aggressor while receiving a millionaire salary from companies controlled by the Kremlin. He no longer shames only his party, but the whole of Germany. The embarrassment that many Social Democrats claimed to feel then has multiplied and it is no longer just local groups or isolated middle positions that are asking for his expulsion. This time the one asking him to leave the party is the co-president: “His defense of Putin against accusations of war crimes is absurd.”
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Saskia Esken assured that for years Schröder “acts only as a businessman”. “We have to stop seeing him as a statesman and a former foreign minister,” she added. A few weeks ago he resigned en bloc the staff of the office that the public treasury pays for him in protest at not abandoning their positions in Russian companies, as the majority of former European leaders seduced by Putin have done in Europe. Already then Esken and the other co-chairman, Lars Klingbeil, had already sent a letter to Schröder asking him to leave those positions. Obviously she was ignored. In fact, the former foreign minister could add a new position linked to the Kremlin in June: he has been nominated to enter the board of the gas giant Gazprom.
The SPD has been widely criticized since the beginning of the Russian invasion for having been too lenient with Putin. Former party leaders, such as Sigmar Gabriel (former party leader and former foreign minister) and the current German president, Frank-Walter Steinmeier, have publicly admitted that they made mistakes. Both grew politically under the wing of Schröder and with him form the triad of heavyweights of social democracy that paved the way for Russian interests. Steinmeier has recognized that he was wrong in Berlin’s staunch defense of the controversial Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline, now paralyzed, and made a self-criticism of Angela Merkel’s 16-year government, to which she belonged for two legislatures: “We defended bridges in which Russia no longer believed and that our partners had warned us against.”
Other Social Democratic leaders, such as the chief in North Rhine-Westphalia, the land most populous German, have joined the condemnation of the party leadership. But so have members of other formations. “The chancellor of shame”, Marco Wanderwitz, from the CDU, referred to him. More than a dozen regional SPD associations have requested that Schröder be expelled from the party. From the Ukraine, the mayor of kyiv, Vitali Klitschko, who lived for many years in Germany, demanded the imposition of sanctions against him. He is part of the Putin system and therefore “co-responsible for the slaughter,” he said.
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