In a recent interview, former German Chancellor and SPD chairman Gerhard Schröder spoke about German-Russian relations and called for the sanctions against Russia to be ceased.
According to Schröder the renewal of bilateral relations was about responsibility for all of German history, particularly World War II. Part of this responsibility was to keep the memory of the German atrocities alive and to fight for a “never again” status quo, regarding the Holocaust and the war waged by the National Socialists.
Germany must not forget, Schröder continued, that the war was also an attempt to exterminate or enslave the peoples of the former Soviet Union, “a cruel campaign of annihilation”, with the aim of “making Russia disappear from the world political stage”. In light of these facts, Germany ought to prioritize strengthening German Russia relations.
Currently, Germany was doing the opposite, Schröder states. Germany could not appreciate enough that Russia, despite this terrible past, was willing to work with the new Germany in a spirit of trust.
In turn, however, Germany ought to cease sanctions against Russia for two reasons in particular. On the one hand, sanctions in Russia manifested historical memories, and, on the other hand, they would not change Russian politics, Schröder argues. Cooperation, Schröder continuous, now, that nations were dealing with the Covid-19 impact, was all the more critical. “Senseless sanctions” should thus not be further conducted.
Not even as a result of Russia’s violations of international law, which were initiated when Russia illegally annexed Crimea, according to Schröder. The means were utterly inappropriate, as the sanctions would never force “any Russian president to return Crimea to Ukraine.” The latter was “the reality” of the story, Schröder concludes.
Russian aggression notwithstanding, there was “no alternative” to reasonable relations with Russia, according to Schröder. Any further alienation of Russia was opening the door towards China even more extensive, which neither Germany nor Europe could please.
Moreover, Russian support was needed to solve the problems of the present, while Germany also needed Russian energy and the Russian market. Especially in times of reconstruction, according to Covid-19, sanctions were, therefore, “out of date,” Schröder reiterated.
Regarding the issues that Russia is causing with its violation of international law in the east of Ukraine, which has caused antipathy and mistrust in Germany, as well as concerns about Russian aggression in the Baltic States, Schröder said that Russia was “not a military threat to the European Union.” Arguing the opposite would only serve to “awaken enemy images of the Cold War.” The latter was rhetoric primarily utilized to sweep the problems within the western defense alliance under the covers.
Nevertheless, according to Schröder, the conflict in eastern Ukraine must be resolved. It was Ukrainian territory, and it must remain that, however, both sides were equally responsible for the lack of progress. There would only be peaceful coexistence if Ukraine became a federal state in which the east was given more autonomy. Accordingly, Ukraine had obligations that it has not yet honored, Schröder argues.
Schröder’s pro-Russia stance has been well documented. The former chancellor, who works for Russian state-owned companies Gazprom and Rosneft, has also been a close personal friend of President Putin ever since both heads of states began to meet in the early 2000s dismissed any allegations of taking Russias side during the interview. Anyone, Schröder agues, who works in some capacity for Russia, was stigmatized and considered a Russian asset, a default setting, that did not impress him.
Nevertheless, Schröder, who famously called Putin in 2004, a “flawless democrat,” has consistently been criticized by German politicians, including his own former party, for his Russian connection and the lack of objectivity he has established ever since working for Russian firms. The latter went so far that Schröder once supported the Russian argument of comparing the annexation of Ukraine’s Crimea to NATO’s intervention in Kosovo in 1999.
No, critical words against Russia or his close friend President Putin have not been part of Schröder’s post-political legacy, whether concerning the violation of international law or the way the Russian president has been dealing his with political opponents.
Arguing in favor of ending rightfully enforced sanctions is the continuation of an anti-west, pro-Russian course that began with going back – on his word and his promise to President George W. Bush for “unconditional support” during the Iraq War in 2003. It is an affront to Ukraine and the Baltic states, who are regularly confronted by Russian aggression. To Schröder, however, Putin, who once called the breakup of the Soviet Union, the “greatest tragedy of the 20th Century,” remains indeed a flawless democrat, who conducts realpolitik, not the leader of Russian superpower fantasies.