Schmidt attacks western sanctions on Russia as ‘nonsense’

Former German chancellor describes Russian actions in Crimea as ‘perfectly understandable’

Former German chancellor Helmut Schmidt  warned western leaders against pushing for military action in Ukraine, saying this would “possibly stimulate the Russian appetite”. Photograph: EPA/Maurizio Gambarini

Former German chancellor Helmut Schmidt warned western leaders against pushing for military action in Ukraine, saying this would “possibly stimulate the Russian appetite”. Photograph: EPA/Maurizio Gambarini

Sat, Mar 29, 2014, 01:00


Former German chancellor Helmut Schmidt has attacked the West’s Crimea strategy and described Russia’s annexation of the peninsula as “completely understandable”.

His remarks in yesterday’s Die Zeit weekly, of which he is publisher, follow similar remarks by another ex-Social Democrat (SPD) chancellor, Gerhard Schröder.

Mr Schmidt dismissed EU and US sanctions on Russian officials as “nonsense”, saying travel bans and asset freezes were symbolic and would “affect the West as much as the Russians”.

He suggested the situation in Ukraine was “dangerous because the West is getting terribly upset” which, in turn, lead to corresponding “upset in the Russian public and political debate”.

He warned western leaders against pushing for military action in Ukraine, saying this would “possibly stimulate the Russian appetite”.

The 95-year-old leader criticised the end of G8 meetings with Moscow, saying this format “would be ideal to sit down together and would be far better for peace than threatening sanctions”. His reserved his only compliment for Chancellor Angela Merkel saying “praise was due for [her] caution”.

His remarks drew a mixed reaction yesterday in Berlin. A spokesman for Dr Merkel declined to comment on Mr Schmidt’s “personal opinion”.

The opposition Left Party backed Mr Schmidt’s criticism of sanctions.

Mr Schröder aired similar criticisms of the western strategy towards Russia two week ago, saying President Vladimir Putin was experiencing “encirclement angst” and put some of the blame for the escalation of the Crimean crisis at the door of the EU and US.

This week German public television ran a report recalling how Mr Schröder, after pushing for a new gas pipeline between Russia and Germany when in office, later became chairman of the pipeline consortium operated by the state-controlled gas company Gazprom.

Suggesting Mr Schröder was as much Russian lobbyist as elder statesman, the report said he attended a meeting with the Russian ambassador on March 4 in the Berlin embassy. The ex-leader declined to comment on his dealings with Russia or the meeting.