Gerhard Schröder’s Russian oil links leave a bad taste

Former German chancellor and friend of Putin nominated for board of Rosneft

 Gerhard Schroeder greets Russian president Vladimir Putin in Berlin in September 2005. Photograph: Vladimir Rodionov/AFP/Getty Images

Gerhard Schroeder greets Russian president Vladimir Putin in Berlin in September 2005. Photograph: Vladimir Rodionov/AFP/Getty Images

 

German ex-chancellor Gerhard Schröder has defended his nomination to the board of a Russian energy company on western sanctions lists, despite the embarrassment it has caused allies in the Social Democratic Party (SPD) ahead of next month’s federal election.

Last Friday Mr Schröder, chancellor for seven years until 2005, was nominated a non-executive director of Rosneft, the world’s largest oil company.

News of the board nomination, with a gross salary of €500,000, has prompted outrage in many political quarters. But the ex-SPD leader, who once described Russian president Vladimir Putin, a close friend, as a “flawless democrat”, dismissed the outrage as electioneering before next month’s poll.

“It is a political campaign to favour Mrs Merkel, to help her by defaming my character,” he told Switzerland’s Blick tabloid.

Mr Schröder, ousted by Angela Merkel 12 years ago, said Rosneft – 50 per cent state-owned – was “in no way” purely Russian, with other shareholders including Glencore, BP and Qatar.

“I believe that the integration of Russia, and its energy industry, into the world economy is of great importance,” he said.

The former chancellor’s name is one of seven nominees for two new non-executive director posts on the Rosneft board. Shareholders will choose the new candidates next month.

Other nominees include Rosneft chief executive Igor Sechin, a close ally of Mr Putin, Kremlin official Andrei Belousov and energy minister Alexander Novak.

Modernise refineries

In May Rosneft announced a €600 million investment programme in Germany, including plans to modernise refineries. Mr Sechin is a close ally of Mr Putin. He was sanctioned by the US in 2014 – including a travel ban and asset freeze – in response to Russia’s role in the Ukrainian unrest.

Mr Schröder, who celebrated his 70th birthday in a St Petersburg palace during the Ukraine crisis, has opposed sanctions placed on Rosneft over Moscow’s interference in Ukraine.

In his final days in office he signed an agreement to build the Nord Stream pipeline, carrying Russian gas under the Baltic Sea to Germany. He later joined the supervisory board of the consortium, a subsidiary of Gazprom.

The Rosneft nomination comes at an inopportune time for SPD leader Martin Schulz. Already fighting to close a 15-point gap with Dr Merkel, the last thing he needed on the campaign trail was claims of political self-serving by his party’s last chancellor.

‘Personal matter’

“Gerd is experienced enough to know which offers he takes up, this is a personal matter with nothing to do with SPD policies,” said Mr Schulz. “I wouldn’t do the same.”

Germany’s Bild tabloid hit back at Mr Schröder’s claims its criticism of the Rosneft nomination was part of a secret agenda to secure a fourth Merkel term.

“The secret agenda of the western media is one of the most popular propaganda lies from Russia, and now Schröder is participating,” wrote editor-in-chief Julian Reichelt in an editorial.

A Pew Research survey out this week showed that a quarter of Germans trust Mr Putin to do the right thing, compared with 11 per cent who trust US president Donald Trump.