German chancellor Olaf Scholz has demanded that Gerhard Schröder, the former German leader and his political mentor, end his post-political career as a Russian lobbyist.
The 77 year old, a long-time friend of Russian president Vladimir Putin, is a vocal defender of Moscow's interests and sits on two Russian-controlled supervisory boards: state-owned energy giant Rosneft and Nord Stream AG, a Gazprom-controlled consortium established to build the undersea gas pipeline Mr Schröder approved weeks before leaving office in 2005.
Those positions earn him close to €1 million annually and last month it emerged that he is in line to join the board of Russian state energy company Gazprom in June.
After years of gritted teeth, and more recent guarded warnings, last week's Russian invasion of Ukraine has prompted Mr Scholz to break with his former boss.
“I find it’s not right for Gerhard Schröder to hold these offices and I think it would be right for him to give them up. My advice to Gerhard Schröder is: stand down from these positions,” he told public broadcaster ZDF.
Mr Schröder has come under fire from all sides in the last weeks, particularly after he warned Ukraine to end its "sabre-rattling" towards Russia.
As regional branches of his Social Democratic Party (SPD) lined up to demand his expulsion, party co-leader Lars Klingbeil warned Mr Schröder this week the "clock was ticking".
Even as the cacophony of criticism grew, though, Mr Scholz, who served as his SPD general secretary and labour minister, held back.
Then Russia marched into Ukraine and this week, four of the ex-chancellor's Bundestag office staff asked to be transferred elsewhere. Pressed on Thursday night whether these Berlin staffers, by extension, were carrying out Russian lobby work with public money, Mr Scholz promised a full investigation into the €560,000 paid to run the ex-chancellor's Berlin office.
“Either way, Bundestag employees are not to be used to carry out tasks resulting from private industry work,” he said.
Asked whether he thought the 77 year old would act, Mr Scholz said: “I hope that all the many friends he still has speak to him and can convince him to reconsider his decisions from the past.”
Nord Stream pipeline
In the hour-long grilling, Mr Scholz denied Germany had been naive towards Russia or that it was too dependent on Russian natural gas – 55 per cent of its total imports.
Five months after a second undersea Nord Stream gas pipeline was completed, Mr Scholz halted the permit process last week in response to the Russian invasion.
Asked why – as late as December – he defended the pipeline as a “private, commercial initiative”, Mr Scholz said: “This was a project pursued over a long time, progressed by several federal governments. It was the fourth pipeline, there were already three others.”
He also defended Germany’s refusal to deliver weapons to Ukraine until last weekend.
“Now those who are innocent and have been attacked cannot be left alone,” he said.
He said Germany was now ready to deliver defensive weapons and was stepping up its military presence along Nato's eastern flank, in Lithuania and Slovakia.
Asked whether he believed a Russian goal was to kill Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy, Mr Scholz added: "That is what is reported . It is really terrible to think that there is talk of persecuting a representative of Ukrainian democracy, after the military war."