BERLIN — One of Europe's formerly most respected Social Democrat has three failed weddings, a brand new wife half his age and a widely reported occasional drinking problem. Rumor has it he is also one of the few people in the world with Vladimir Putin‘s mobile phone number.
So it was that Monday at President Putin's latest inauguration, after more than 1,600 anti-Putin protesters were arrested across Russia, the ex-German chancellor Gerhard Schroder stood sandwiched obediently between the Russian patriarch and the “ministers “, and one row ahead of the washed-up action starring and internet meme Steven Seagal( Italy's Silvio” Bunga Bunga” Berlusconi cancelled ). Perhaps Putin's last non-radical western ally, Schroder was one of the only three people who got to shake the president's hand for the all the cameras.
Since Schroder lost his re-election bid in 2005, “hes having” cashed in on his rep by taking jobs with the Russian state-owned energy companies Rosneft and Gazprom, although he is no expert on gas or petroleum. He says he does the lobbying run “out of friendship” that has ” no political meaning .” Anyone who has a problem with that, as the 74 -year-old likes to say,” can suck it .”
Indeed, a six-figure salary is not something exclusively can be found at Russian energy companies. And the former chancellor seems happiest when he is bossing around the northern German football team on whose board he sits pro bono.” The Kremlin uses Schroder to mould its narrations ,” Stefan Meister, who works at the German Council of Foreign Relations, tells us.” But I think that he genuinely thinks his business activities contribute to improving relationships between Germany and Russia .”
Anyone familiar with the vicissitudes of the ongoing Trump-Russia saga in the United States will have caught a glimpse of the route Putin likes to use oil money to win friends and influence politicians. But in Schroder's case, some of this has to do with history.
When Schroder was born in 1944, his father, a soldier in the German Wehrmacht, wrote from Romania that he would be home in the autumn. He never came home. Later, in the mid-seventies, when Germans still clung to the illusion that at least ordinary soldiers had remained “professional” on the Eastern Front, Schroder traveled to Russia as part of a delegation of young Social Democrats.
He visited a power plant in the Russian countryside and met a tour guide whose son had died trying to defend it. There was an exhibition with photograph that Schroder had not ensure before. Some of them presented the brutal mass executings that were carried out by Wehrmacht soldiers .
Fast-forward to 2001, a few weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks. Schroder was the German chancellor and Vladimir Putin was in Berlin to give a speech in the Bundestag. The new Russian president pledged friendship to the U.S. He also spoke in German, having previously been a KGB agent working along with the East German police in Dresden. The chancellor was touched when Putin told, ” Russia has always harbored special feelings for Germany .”
” We Germans carry a responsibility towards Russia ,” Schroder said in an interviewwith the Suddeutsche Zeitung in 2016, referring to the 20 million people who died in the Soviet Union between 1941 and 1945. He mused that he and Putin were connected by the fact that both their families had suffered in the war:” I lost my father, Putin's brother died during the German occupation of Leningrad, his mother nearly starved to death .”
” Schroder's guilt complex is a pattern that you have in the older generation of Germans ,” says Meister.” I believe Putin knows about these feelings and he plays with it .”
That explanation works well for some of Schroder's erstwhile supporters. In a former artist colony in the north of Germany, which was once the battleground for a green protest movement against nuclear energy, the landlord of the local steak home still has a picture of Gerhard Schroder, who used to be his state's minister-president, hanging on the wall. Even after Schroder was elected to the board of the dirtiest oil company in Russia last year, I discovered on a visit, the portrait's still hanging there.
Rosneft, which is subject to western sanctions, is Schroder's latest employer and has the greatest oil and gas reserves in the world. Schroder's salary is not public info yet. But Matthias Warnig, the German ex-Stasi spy officer who stood behind Schroder at the pseudo-coronation yesterday, works for Nord Stream, the daughter company of Gazprom. And his salary for 2016 has been reported reported by Rosneft as $580,000.
A moderate sum, its seems, given that Rosneft's board of directors tried to order tableware for their private airplane for the sum of $83,000 last spring. If the company's employees hadn't leaked the shopping list to the corruption-fighting opposition leader Alexei Navalny( who was also detained this weekend ), the silver spoons would have expensed $260 each.
It's worth noting that, according to a profilepublished in the Suddeutsche Zeitung last autumn, in Putin's modern day kleptocracy a geologist who works as a scientific advisor to the Russian Ministry of Resource and has a PhD earned back from the time when scientists in the USSR were taught foreign speeches so that they would be able to read Western newspapers but not converse with their colleagues, can hope to earn around $50 per month.
Maybe the ex-chancellor's sense of responsibility is get lost in translation.” When German legislators like Schroder go to Moscow, they principally have elite contact and very limited contact to the normal Russian people ,” Meister points out.” If they are go to meetings with Putin and his cronies, then of course they are somewhat blind .”
But there was Schroder on Monday for the whole world to see.
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