Putin’s Pal

Cuddling Up to the Russian Bear

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Gerd and his good buddy Vlad.
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Gerhard Schröder’s close relationship with Vladimir Putin puts the ex-chancellor in a good position to influence the Russian president and convince him to stop meddling in eastern Ukraine.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • Mr. Schröder has criticized his successor, Angela Merkel, for her hard-line stance on Russia.
    • The German business community fears the impact of E.U. sanctions against one of its top trading partners.
    • Mr. Schröder has been slammed for taking a lucrative job with a Russian-German gas pipeline shortly after leaving office.
  • Audio

    Audio

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If it were solely up to the business community to pick who runs Germany, the country’s chancellor would probably still be Gerhard Schröder. Perhaps now more than ever.

That’s not just because German firms profited handsomely from the economic and welfare reforms, known as Agenda 2010, that he championed. But he also had a knack for providing access to the markets of problematic countries. In particular, it’s the former chancellor’s openness toward doing business with Russia and the Arab world that makes Mr. Schröder enduringly popular with Germany’s captains of industry.

It is understandable, given the former chancellor’s penchant for outspoken comments – especially after leaving office. He has criticized the Russia policy of his successor, Angela Merkel, and called for genuinely open negotiations with Russia “without all the haughtiness and demands for justification.” Above all, he wants to see cooperation instead of confrontation.

This appeals to the German business community, which stands to lose from the economic sanctions against one of its top 10 trading partners. And, of course, the sanctions are no way to get Russian President Vladimir Putin to change his ways.

Mr. Schröder has to offer more than eloquent words and calls for a dialogue with Russia.

While Mr. Schröder’s criticism is justified, it is also an easy accusation for him to make. He neither has to convert his words into deeds in the form of real policy nor does he have a political alternative to offer.

If the West is not just to capitulate to Russia, then it has to answer the question of how it intends to get the Kremlin to accept a sustainable compromise. In that context, it is naturally right to want to understand Russia – Qatar and Iran too. There’s nothing wrong with trying to see Russia’s point of view. On the contrary, it is a must for responsible politicians.

But it is equally important to understand that, for example, the interests of the Ukrainians cannot simply be ignored. The right of nations to self-determination – the democratic basis for the Berlin Wall coming down 25 years ago – is not just valid in Berlin and Moscow, but in Kiev and Hong Kong too. History has already seen the Russians and Germans impose their wills on other nations, and this cannot be allowed to happen again.

And that is why Mr. Schröder has to do more than call for dialogue. If he is really serious, he should be trying to influence Mr. Putin to accept Ukraine’s right to self-determination, together with other politicians and statesmen. They should also get him to negotiate a lasting peaceful solution for Europe, a free trade zone from Lisbon to Vladivostok and the full integration of Russia as an equal but not dominant partner.

Now that would truly be in the best interest of the business commnity.  

 

The author is Handelsblatt’s chief international correspondent. He can be reached at: brueggmann@handelsblatt.com

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