German ex-Chancellor Schröder hits back in Russia row before vote

Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder (front L) shakes hands with Russian President Vladimir Putin (R) during Putin's meeting with heads of foreign companies and business associations on the sidelines of the 20th St. Petersburg International Economic Forum. Russia, 17 June. [Sergey Chirikov/EPA]

Former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder hit back at criticism of his planned new job at Russian oil producer Rosneft on Thursday (17 August), accusing his foes of political manoeuvring to help get Angela Merkel re-elected.

The nomination of Social Democrat Schröder to the board of Rosneft, subject to Western sanctions over Moscow’s role in the Ukraine crisis, has caused an outcry in Germany, especially in a climate of fear about any potential Russian interference in the 24 September vote.

Combative Schröder, 73, who makes no bones about his friendship with Russian President Vladimir Putin, defended his decision and said it would not damage the SPD.

“This is a political campaign for Mrs Merkel. People want to help her by slandering me,” he told Swiss newspaper Blick.

Chancellor from 1998 to 2005, Schröder said he knew his new role would cause some comments but he had not expected such “one-sidedness” in the reporting.

“I don’t think my post will have a negative impact on the election. Germans have a big interest in having sensible ties with Russia,” he said.

Schröder is already a divisive figure in the SPD thanks to his labour market reforms and some members have distanced themselves from their former leader.

SPD leader Martin Schulz is holding no further joint campaign appearances with his predecessor although in June, Schröder addressed the party’s pre-election conference, urging them to keep the faith and fight for victory.

Earlier this week Schulz said he would not do what Schröder had done. “Even after my time as German chancellor, I will not accept jobs in the private sector,” he said on Facebook.

Whether Schulz will get the chance to serve as chancellor, however, is doubtful. The SPD are trailing Merkel’s conservatives in most polls by around 15 percentage points though many commentators expect them to again join a right-left “grand coalition”.

Top-selling Bild has splashed headlines lambasting “Gazprom Gerhard” for his involvement with Russian companies in the past few days. Schröder told Blick he expected a salary of about $350,000 on which he would pay German tax.

Russia owns 50% plus one share of Rosneft and some conservatives and Greens have also criticised Schröder for his “shameless” behaviour.

The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung wrote that if Schröder accepted the post, “a former German chancellor would be a stooge of an authoritarian system”.

Schröder is already chairman of the shareholders’ committee of Nord Stream AG, a Gazprom-led consortium established for the construction of a pipeline carrying Russian natural gas across the Baltic.

Gazprom’s Schröder holds ‘friendly’ meeting with Juncker

Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker received today (5 April) Gerhard Schröder, the former Chancellor of Germany who now works for Gazprom. The Commission however insisted the two met as old acquaintances.

It is not the first time Schröder has been attacked for his ties to Russia. Just weeks after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014, he drew criticism for giving Putin a bear hug at the Russian leader’s birthday party in St Petersburg.

Schröder, whose father died in World War Two fighting the Red Army, is also still ridiculed for saying back in 2005 that he agreed with a description of Putin as a “flawless democrat”.

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