Germany's Schroeder escapes party exile over Russia links

Social Democrats vote not to expel former chancellor over Kremlin-friendly comments and Russian energy links

Gerhard Schroeder, right, is a personal friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin. AP
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Former German chancellor Gerhard Schroeder was on Monday spared expulsion from the party he once led as members ruled his intimate ties to the Kremlin were not a breach of party rules.

The decision by a panel of Social Democrats sparked outrage by opposition conservatives who said the reprieve damaged the standing of Germany's ruling party.

Mr Schroeder, chancellor from 1998 to 2005, is a personal friend of Russian President Vladimir Putin and a lobbyist for Russian energy companies who was mockingly nicknamed "Gas Gerd" by his critics.

Russia's invasion of Ukraine left him a political pariah after he stayed in contact with Mr Putin, echoed Kremlin talking points in public and offered only lukewarm criticism of the war.

But the panel of SPD officials in Hannover said Mr Schroeder, 78, had not broken party rules, according to a ruling seen by news agency dpa. The decision could be appealed by the local party branches that had submitted motions for his expulsion.

"The fact that Gerhard Schroeder's chumminess with the warmongering Putin, and his disloyalty to Germany and the chancellor, do not come with consequences is a declaration of moral and legal bankruptcy by the SPD," said Christoph de Vries, a Christian Democrat MP.

Matthias Hauer, another conservative MP, linked the reprieve for Mr Schroeder to what critics regard as tepid support for Ukraine by current Chancellor Olaf Scholz, also a Social Democrat.

Critics said the reprieve for Mr Schroeder, right, reflected poorly on the party of current Chancellor Olaf Scholz. AFP

"The fact that the chancellor's party stands by Schroeder is not a surprise, because Olaf Scholz applies the brakes to any support for Ukraine," he said. "Never has modern Germany squandered so much trust internationally."

Some senior SPD figures have distanced themselves from Mr Schroeder but said there were high procedural hurdles to clear to expel someone from the party.

Mr Scholz has said his predecessor should step down from his Russian energy posts, and said it was right for MPs to strip Mr Schroeder of some of his post-chancellorship perks in May.

Dismay at Mr Schroeder's behaviour bubbled up again last week, after he gave an interview to the magazine Stern in which he took Russia's side in a stand-off over gas supplies.

He described the invasion as "a mistake" but said Russia had justified concerns about being encircled by enemies, and he refused to apologise for his ties to the Kremlin.

Both Mr Schroeder and his successor Angela Merkel, a Christian Democrat, have come under criticism for allowing Germany to become so reliant on Russian energy.

Mr Schroeder lobbied personally for the Nord Stream 1 and 2 gas pipelines but announced in May that he had passed up a role on the board of Russian gas exporter Gazprom.

A spokesman for Mr Scholz's government on Monday said there was no prospect of the shelved Nord Stream 2 being put into use after its opening was suspended indefinitely in February.

Updated: August 08, 2022, 2:34 PM