Belgium (Brussels Morning Newspaper) As Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz headed to Moscow today on a diplomatic mission to de-escalate tensions over Ukraine in his scheduled meeting with Russia’s President Vladimir Putin, the shadow of his former party colleague, Gerhard Schröder loomed large.
The former Social-Democratic Chancellor of Germany from 1998 to 2005, Schröder now sits on the boards of several Russian energy companies, including the Gazprom energy giant, Rosneft oil producer, and, notably, the Nord Stream AG gas pipeline company. Moreover, his name has featured prominently in the media in recent days for criticising his country’s current policy towards Russia.
Scholz has faced criticism from Ukraine and from much of the Western media about Germany’s reluctance to provide arms to Kiev, as well as his seeming ambivalence about declaring outright that the recently completed Nord Stream 2 gas pipeline would be subject to sanctions should Russia invade Ukraine.
“We are ready for very far-reaching and effective sanctions in coordination with our allies”, Scholz said in Kiev on Monday, after his meeting with Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky. Critics noted again how he evaded mentioning the Baltic Sea pipeline by name when discussing sanctions.
Earlier this month, Scholz was forced to distance himself from his former colleague while visiting Washington, when a CNN reporter asked him what message Schröder’s membership on the boards of the Russian energy giants might be sending to Germany’s allies.
“He’s not working for the government”, Scholz said with a tight smile. “He’s not the government. I am the Chancellor now.” This reply prompted Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine to note that Scholz sounded as if he had felt obliged to clarify just who is Germany’s political leader. “It was an uncomfortable moment”, the magazine stressed.
Schröder, it seems, is making both Germany and his former party uncomfortable with his most recent comments and opinions. Recently, he blasted Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock for visiting Kiev before Moscow, and he has also accused Ukraine of “sabre-rattling”, in direct contradiction of the German government’s current policy.
According to Social Democratic Party (SPD) veteran Rudolf Dressler, the problems Schröder is creating for Scholz on an international level are unacceptable. “To be on Putin’s payroll as a former chancellor: That doesn’t look good”, he told Der Spiegel.