Bad Taste: Ex-Chancellor Parties with Putin

A Commentary By

Russian President Vladimir Putin (center) and Gerhard Schröder embrace on Monday in St. Petersburg at a reception in honor of the former German chancellor's 70th birthday. Zoom
DPA

Russian President Vladimir Putin (center) and Gerhard Schröder embrace on Monday in St. Petersburg at a reception in honor of the former German chancellor's 70th birthday.

The conflict in eastern Ukraine threatens to escalate, but that didn't stop former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder from celebrating his 70th birthday with Vladimir Putin on Monday. By doing so, he is making a mockery of Berlin's foreign policy.

There's nothing you can do about your relatives, but you certainly have a choice when it comes to picking your friends. This sage wisdom also applies to Gerhard Schröder, the former German leader and confidant of Russian President Vladimir Putin. He himself can decide whom to embrace and with whom to celebrate his 70th birthday -- after all, true friends stick together, even in the toughest of times. Normally, one would call this strength of character.

But when it comes to Schröder and Putin in the context of the Ukraine crisis, things are a little more complicated. Gerhard Schröder ought to know better. If the former German chancellor believes he can continue his friendship as if nothing has happened, it's a mistake. Schröder's own center-left Social Democratic Party is currently the junior coalition partner in Chancellor Angela Merkel's government, which is frantically trying to prevent his friend Vladimir from carrying out the policies of a power-drunk hegemon in Eastern Europe. In difficult times like these, a former German leader should, at least publicly, keep a safe distance from Putin.

Dialogue, including with Putin, must continue, and the West must take Moscow's interests into account. It is also perfectly fine for Gerhard Schröder to be friends with Putin -- that's his business. But hugging and chumming it up at a party in St. Petersburg against the backdrop of current events is simply tasteless. The event, held in honor of Schröder's 70th birthday on Monday night, was hosted by Nord Stream AG, a subsidiary of Russian gas monopolist Gazprom. The former chancellor is the chairman of the shareholders' committee of the company, which operates a gas pipeline that directly links Russia and Germany.

Former Chancellors Should Support German Foreign Policy

Putin violated international law by annexing Crimea. People have died in the occupied cities of eastern Ukraine and representatives of international organizations have been detained. Fears of war are growing and Schröder's friend Putin seems to be pleased by much of what is happening. Germany and the West have reacted by applying mild sanctions to Putin's entourage.

No one is Berlin is interested in a serious conflict with Putin. The hope is that Moscow will finally come round and pursue politics of de-escalation and true dialogue, instead of engaging in a power play reminiscent of the darkest hours of the Cold War. That would be a reasonable, defensive line, that should be used to prevent hardliners both in the East and the West from further exacerbating the situation.

In times like this, a former chancellor should support his country's foreign policy and not demonstratively seek to thwart it, or make a mockery of it, as Schröder has done.

Of course, Putin loves all this, and will believe that his nationalist, hardliner old KGB-style stance has been vindicated. Schröder's behavior, on the other hand, is making the former chancellor seem awfully puny. He's acting without instinct and appears to have forgotten that, as Germany's former leader, he is still obliged to maintain a statesman-like responsibility for his country.

If the former chancellor were to exercise his influence more productively, by trying to get some sense across to his friend Putin, it would be helpful. He may be doing this behind the scenes, but there is no sign whatsoever of this. That's a shame.

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1. A turd remains a turd
Inglenda2 04/29/2014
With the conflict in eastern Ukraine and the human suffering which is therewith rapidly increasing, being used both by Russia and the west for dishonest political reasons, the tasteless acts of former German Chancellor Gerhard Schröder are just another disgusting point in European history. It should not be forgotten however, that even during his time as Chancellor, Mr. Schröder was more interested in securing his later personal income (through his private connections with Russian energy giants), than in representing the people of his own country. It was he, who has put Germany into a position in which it can be blackmailed by international operating concerns. This man was and is a disaster for German interests both at home and abroad. Sanctions on him would not be out of place!
2. optional
panina777 04/29/2014
Sure that's a shame! For those who wrote and printed this nonsense. Whoever is reading this bull*rap - trouble in Ukraine was created by US and supported by weak EU leaders. Only the west is responsible for Ukraine's mess. Russia is a good guy, but as usual is blamed for everything. Watch RT.com and you will see for itself the truth, because only RT.com shows the things how they are. EU betrayed its democratic values and became a US slave. EU leaders have no courage or integrity left.
3. optional
praha7 04/29/2014
I'm looking forward to the second part of this article in which I'm sure Mr.Nelles will take to task the leaders of the U.S., the E.U., and NATO for hobnobbing with and encouraging the likes of the anti semitic and ultra ntionalist right group not to mention the unsavoury svoboda and the unlovely Julia Timoshenko. The latter remember has stated that she wants to set up a militia to kill her fellow Ukrainians and there is evidence that the Right group have already killed in the east. Of corrse Mr. Nelles maybe one of those commentators who thinks that anything the ''west'' does is perfectly all right.
4. optional
peskyvera 04/29/2014
Schroeder isn't making a mockery of Berlin's policies, they already are already mocking the democratic process. Sadly, it doesn't seem to bother Merkel and cohorts that the present government in Kiev was installed through a US-sponsored/supported coup. If Germany and the rest of the EU would only stop kissing the American behind.
5. Disappointing Germany
spon-facebook-651519545 04/29/2014
I had never read a ridiculous article as this... it is a shame and a pity to witness that German culture and values are getting more and more "Americanized"... there must be something in the McDonalds hamburgers they are preparing in Germany... pathetic!!!
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